Saudi Arabia Should Not ‘force’ Women to Wear Abaya Robes, Top Cleric Says

Saudi women should not be forced to wear abayas, the loose-fitting robe used to cover their bodies in public, a top religious cleric said.

Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said that women should dress modestly but that it could be achieved without the abaya — which is currently mandated by law in the Sunni Muslim-majority country.

The cleric’s statement, believed to be the first of its kind in recent memory, comes as the kingdom has taken some recent steps toward modernisation, relaxing a range of restrictions.

“More than 90 percent of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas. So we should not force people to wear abayas,” Sheikh Mutlaq said on Friday.

The social reform plan initiated by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has pledged to transform the country, has allowed Saudi women to drive cars for the first time, brought movie theatres to the Sunni Muslim kingdom for the first time in 30 years and allowed women to watch soccer live in stadiums in some cities.

In recent years, some Saudi women have taken to wearing colourful abayas, as opposed to the more standard black, wearing them over jeans or wearing abayas that were a bit shorter than full-length. Last year, however, a woman was interrogated by police — she was released later and not charged — after a brief Snapchat video of her wearing a short skirt and midriff top was seen online.  Fox News