Senior Saudi scholar says women ‘shouldn’t be forced to wear abaya’


Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismail| 12 February 2018| 25 Jumadul Ula 1439

Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the top Muslim clerical body in Saudi Arabia, said that women should not be obliged to wear 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.

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.

Friday Studio is a weekly Islamic show that discusses Islamic teachings, answers questions from the audience and issues fatwas by the show’s permanent guest Al-Mutlaq.

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 signalling 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 colourful 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.

The trend marks a major change in the last couple of years. In 2016, a Saudi woman was detained for removing her abaya on the 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 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.

These are some of the many changes the country has undergone in recent months, hailed as proof of a new progressive trend in the deeply conservative Muslim Kingdom.

Extracts – Al Arabiya| Arab News