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Saudi women should not have to wear long robes, top cleric says

From BBC - February 10, 2018

Saudi women should not have to wear the abaya, a long loose-fitting robe used to cover their bodies in public, a top religious cleric has said.

Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said women should dress modestly, but this did not have to mean wearing the abaya.

Saudi women are currently required to wear the garment by law.

The cleric's intervention comes amid moves to modernise Saudi society and relax restriction on women.

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

It is the first time a senior cleric has made such a statement, which may form the basis of Saudi law in the future.

What has the reaction been?

Sheikh Mutlaq's intervention has generated intense reaction online, with people expressing both support and opposition.

"The abaya is a matter of tradition in one of our regions and has become applicable to all. It is not an issue of religion," wrote Twitter user Mashari Ghamdi.

"Even if one hundred fatwas have been issued, I swear to God I will never leave my abaya. Over my dead body. Girls, do not listen to the fatwas" wrote twitter user @Kooshe90.

Women who do not wear the abaya in places where they may be seen by men who are not related to them face being chastised by the religious police.

In 2016, a Saudi woman was detained for removing her abaya on a main street in the capital of Riyadh, Reuters news agency reported.

However in recent years Saudi women have begun wearing more colourful abayas that contrast with the traditional black, and open abayas worn over long skirts or jeans are also becoming more common in some parts of the country, Reuters says.

What is the background?

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