Saudi Mufti Abdullah al-Mutlaq stated on Friday that women are not required to wear abayas, breaking with precedents for regulations of Saudi women dress and causing widespread controversy in Saudi society.
On his weekly radio program, al-Mutlaq, who is a member of the of the highest jurisprudence committee in the country which is allowed to issue religious edicts, said that as long as women wear modest clothing that does not reveal details of their bodies, they are free to wear any sort of clothes, as long as they match Islamic requirements, adding that women are not obligated to wear abayas, which are loose-fitting robes.
Breaking all of the regulations previously stipulated by Saudi authorities that require women to wear hijabs (head scarves) and black abayas, al-Mutlaq asserted that a lot of Saudi women are considered extremely religious without wearing abayas.
“More than 90% of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas and do not know about it. And we see them in Saudi Arabia; religious women that call for God and memorise Qur’an without wearing abayas,” he said, according to Reuters.
Al-Mutlaq is one of the few people that the government allows to issue religious edicts, and his comments were taken as a further sign of expansions of freedom for Saudi women that have been rolled out recently.
“We should not force people to wear abayas,” he added.
Social media accounts ignited with various sorts of feedbacks regarding al-Mutlaq’s edict. Women warmly accepted al-Mutlaq’s declaration, with many of them stating on social media that they have been waiting for such a decision for a long time. However, many men accused him of blindly following the political wave that Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman is adopting, which calls for granting women greater freedoms.
The edict comes after a chain of decisions that are new to the conservative kingdom. Last year, Saudi Arabis was the last country to allow women to drive, to attend mixed musical concerts, and to receive healthcare without the presence of a male guardian.