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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2524

Women ‘shouldn’t be forced to wear abaya’ - Senior Saudi religious cleric

Riyadh, 12 February, (

Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a senior member of the top Muslim clerical body in Saudi Arabia, said that women should not be obliged to wear the loose-fitting, full-length robes symbolic of the Muslim faith known as the ‘abayas’ as the purpose of the Sharia code is to cover the entire body with any long and loose-fitting garment, whether using a cloak or any form of modest clothing.

During his radio programme, Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, who is a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said Muslim women should dress modestly, but this did not mean they needed to wear the religious clothing.

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

Although, the statement does not signal a change in the law, it is the first of its kind from a senior religious figure. The move follows the recent shift in political consensus within the deeply conservative religious state.

However, this is another indication of the Kingdom’s efforts towards modernization. He continued to say that 90 percent of Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear an abaya and do not even know it.

“As we see in Mecca and Medina, a large number of decent, religious women do not wear abayas. This in itself is bare witness that women should not be obliged to wear abayas,” said Mutlaq during the “Friday Studio” program on Nedaa al-Islam channel.

A member of the clerical body clarified that wearing an abaya is fulfilling the act of being conservative. An abaya falls under what Allah has referred to as the Jalabib in the Quran and has urged women to wear. If a woman chooses to cover her head, shoulders or otherwise with an abaya, that would be fine.

While not necessarily signaling a change in the law, the statement is the first of its kind from a senior religious figure. It follows the recent pattern of freedoms the Kingdom has been witnessing with the ascent of young Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to power.

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.

Saudi women have started wearing more colorful abayas in recent years, the light blues and pinks in stark contrast with the traditional black. Open abayas over long skirts or jeans are also becoming more common in some parts of the country.

-Asian Tribune –

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars.
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