Top Muslim cleric says long robes not required for Saudi women

Top Muslim cleric says long robes not required for Saudi women
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A top religious cleric said Friday that women in Saudi Arabia don’t need to wear the abaya, the robe-like full body dress Saudi women are currently required to wear.

Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said on that Saudi women should dress modestly but that doesn't mean they have to wear the abaya.

More than 90 percent of women in the Muslim world do not wear the abaya, Sheikh Mutlaq noted, according to Reuters. “So we should not force people to wear abayas."

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Sheikh Mutlaq’s comments mark the first time a Saudi religious leader has made such a statement, but it is also one more sign of the kingdom’s effort to modernize as Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman begins his ascent to power.

As a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, Sheikh Mutlaq’s words carry significant weight as they could be the premise for new Saudi law.

The comment follows the announcement last year that women in Saudi Arabia would be allowed to drive and the decision to allow women to attend mixed sporting events.

Though Saudi Arabia still faces some of the world’s most restrictive laws against women, in recent years some Saudi women have begun to switch out the traditional black abayas for more colorful ones and open abayas worn over jeans or long skirt are becoming more widespread in parts of the country, according to Reuters.