A Saudi cleric has been pilloried for saying women should not drive because their brains shrink to "a quarter the size" after they have been shopping.

Saad al-Hijri was suspended from all religious activity after an outburst against allowing women to drive, said the state broadcaster, quoting a spokesman for the governor of the southern Asir province.

In an earlier video identifying him as the head of the religious edicts department in the southern province, Hijri spoke out against the "evils of allowing women to drive".

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving, despite ambitious government targets to increase their public role, especially in the workforce.

Women in the oil-rich kingdom are also bound by law to wear long robes and a headscarf and require the consent of a male guardian for most legal actions.

In the video Hijri said: "It is not their fault, but women lack intellect do they not? Would you give a man with half an intellect a driving licence? So how would you give one to a woman when she has half an intellect?"

He added: "If they go out to the market this gets halved again! So they now have a quarter of an intellect."

His comments have been slammed on social media, which is hugely popular in the kingdom.

Some users posted pictures of Saudi female scientists and academics in response and questioned Hijri's own intellectual capacities.

One person tweeted: "This person is offending and denigrating Saudi women, authorities must take action against him and fire him from his position."

The government has made modest attempts at reforms, backed by Saudi Arabia's business class, but these moves have sparked tensions with influential clerics, upon whose support the ruling family relies.