Muslim Cleric Says Women Don't Have To Wear Long Robe-like Dresses

Saudi women need not wear abaya

Saudi women need not wear abaya

Changes are not coming fast enough for many campaigners.

A senior religious cleric said women should not be forced to wear abayas - the full-length robe that women don in public to cloak their bodies.

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 now mandated by law in the Sunni Muslim-majority country.

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.

The kingdom has seen an expansion in women's rights recently, such as the decision passed to allow women to attend mixed public sporting events and the announcement that Saudi Arabia would grant them the right to drive. Activists have blasted the country's guardianship system, which requires a male family member to grant permission for a woman to study overseas, travel and other activities. "So we should not force people to wear abayas", Sheikh Mutlaq said on Friday.

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It is aimed at giving more freedom to Saudi women, who face strict gender segregation rules, and follows the historic lifting of a driving ban in September 2017.

Last summer, the kingdom announced the construction of a luxury resort on the Red Sea where women will be allowed to wear bikinis.

It has also been reported this week that the kingdom's Public Prosecution will begin hiring Saudi women as investigative officers.

The progressive developments are being ushered in by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, 32. Women can also now be appointed to the Shoura Council and run in municipal elections. 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.

What can Saudi women still not do? In order to travel or open a bank account, women need a "guardian's permission" to be signed by the husband or a male family member. A Saudi woman can not open a bank account without her husband's permission.

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