Saudi women need not wear abaya robes: senior cleric

Saudi women wearing the required abaya are seen walking during the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rumah some 160 kilometres east of Riyadh

"More than 90% of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas", Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the council of senior scholars, said during a radio programme on Friday.

Through Sheikh Al Mutlaq's comments do not mean the law will necessarily be changed, it's the first statement of its kind to be made by a senior cleric, according to Reuters.

Saudi Arabia is known for having some of the harshest laws on women.

While many Muslim women around the world wear hijab by choice, in Saudi Araba, it is mandatory to wear a headscarf and a woman who fails to wear it in public faces punishment.

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

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"As we see in Mecca and Medina, a large number of decent, religious women do not wear abayas". This follows the recent changes that the Kingdom has been experiencing ever since the crowing of the young Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. Women in Saudi Arabia face extreme social and personal restrictions because of the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam.

Last September, a royal decree revealed women will be able to secure driving licences from June 2018, with the news widely celebrated around the globe.

Last month, women were allowed to watch football in stadiums in some cities, and a driving ban was lifted a year ago, but women are still unable to do many things without their male guardian's permission. Before that announcement, Saudi women were only allowed to wear swimsuits inside segregated gymnasiums and women-only swimming pools. 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. The first movie theaters are scheduled to open in March this year.

Up until now, such sports and entertainment venues have been men-only areas. 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.

This has helped create one of the most gender unequal countries in the Middle East.

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