A senior member of Saudi Arabia’s top clerical body has said Muslim women should dress modestly, but that this did not necessitate wearing the abaya.
“More than 90 per cent of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas,”Sheikh Abdullah Al Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said said during his television programme on Friday.
“So we should not force people to wear abayas,” the cleric said, according to news agency Reuters.
While not necessarily signalling a change in the law, the statement is the first of its kind from a senior religious figure. Only the government-appointed clerics associated with the Council of Senior Scholars are allowed to issue fatwas, or Islamic legal opinions. Their interpretations of Islamic law form the basis of Saudi Arabia’s legal system.
The trend marks a major change in the last couple of years. In 2016, a Saudi woman was detained for removing her abaya on a main street in the capital of Riyadh. Local media reported that she was detained after a complaint was filed with the religious police.
The kingdom recently lifted a ban on women driving. Women are now also allowed to attend mixed public sporting events.