Riyadh - Saudi Arabia’s Gand Mufti (most senior cleric) has defended a ban on women driving by claiming it would "expose them to evil".

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh said men “obsessed with women” and with "weak spirits" could end up causing female drivers harm and that male relatives would not know their whereabouts.

Although women driving in Saudi Arabia is not against the law, in practice women are unable to obtain driving licences. Exceptions are occasionally made in rural areas if a woman needs to drive for her family life.

According to The Independent, the grand mufti made his comments on a religious television channel Almajd.

The kingdom's most senior cleric is well known for his outspoken positions and earlier this year issued a fatwa saying chess was forbidden in Islam as it promoted gambling.

Saudi Araba has made some recent progress on women's rights. Last year women were allowed to vote for the first time. Allowing women the freedom to drive remains a distant hope.

SAUDIS ACT AGAINST FOOTBALLER HAIRCUTS

AFP adds: Saudi sports authorities are taking action against footballer hairstyles deemed to be anti-Islamic in the ultra-conservative kingdom, local media reported.

A video posted online on Friday showed one player being given a last-minute haircut before a fixture to comply with Saudi Football Federation guidelines.

The video shows a referee using scissors to remove a small mohawk at the front of his head before allowing him onto the pitch.

The head of the kingdom's youth organisation Tuesday asked its sport federations and Olympic committee to "ban the qazaa phenomenon", using an Arabic name for eccentric styles often sported by footballers, the website www.arriyadiyah.com reported.

Such haircuts are against Islam and Saudi traditions, one commentator wrote in the newspaper Al-Jazirah on Friday, urging the football federation to "impose sanctions" on offending players whose "bizarre haircuts are imitated by their fans in schools".

Saudi Arabia, where many foreign professional footballers play for local teams, applies a rigorous doctrine of Islam known as Wahhabism.