To Top

Top Saudi Cleric Says Women Shouldn’t Be Obligated to Wear Abayas

Earlier this month, Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a senior member of Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Scholars, took a step away from tradition by stating that women do not have to wear abayas, though they should continue to dress modestly.

An abaya is a type of covering for practicing Muslim women that looks like a long, loose robe or cloak. It covers everything except for the woman’s hands, feet, and face. The garment is most often seen in Saudi Arabia, where the law currently mandates that women wear them outside of the house.

Sheikh al-Mutlaq, however, recognizes that this law might be dated and unnecessary.

More than 90 percent of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas,” he said in his radio program. “So we should not force people to wear abayas.”

As a senior cleric, Sheikh al-Mutlaq is one of the few individuals in the Muslim world who is allowed to make Islamic legal opinions. A fatwa is a ruling on an Islamic law given by an authorized authority, which helps form the foundation of Saudi Arabia’s legal system. And since Sheikh al-Mutlaq is capable of issuing a fatwa, his opinion on abayas is extremely important. His ruling was also backed by other senior clerics.


Sheikh al-Mutlaq’s forward thinking is very much in line with some relatively progressive changes that have recently been made in the nation, such as the decision to allow women to drive and attend sporting events. These changes have been attributed to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is working to modernize Saudi Arabia with the return of “moderate Islam.”

Despite this like-minded moderate thinking, the government has yet to make any official statement about removing or amending the law.

In the last few years, women have found their own ways to push the boundaries of the law. Though abayas are traditionally made out of dark-colored fabric, women have been seen wearing light pink and blue abayas. Some women have even been seen wearing open abayas over skirts or jeans.

The government has had little reaction to these changes, a stark difference from their behavior toward a case in 2016 when a woman was detained for removing her abaya on a main street in the city of Riyadh. The woman supposedly removed the garment as a challenge to the government’s law.


The situation angered many Saudi citizens who thought her stunt was a sign of disrespect to both the government and the faith.

“She has been arrested and we demand utmost punishment, for the state has rules that she did not respect,” one citizen said on Twitter.

With Sheikh al-Mutlaq new ruling, Saudi citizens may start reacting differently to the idea of women not being required to wear abayas.

“Chastity and morality should not be tied to a piece of cloth,” one Twitter user commented.

“He is right, the abaya is only [mandatory] here, but, in every other Islamic country, veiled women only wear loose clothing rather than an abaya,” another said.

Only time will tell how the government will react to Sheikh al-Mutlaq’s new opinion, if at all. Until then, all eyes are on the women of Saudi Arabia to see how they will react to the change.

Featured Image by Ifrah Akhter on Unsplash

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Be Informed

  • Black Mothers: The Risk of Giving Birth

    Serena Williams was not the first black woman to be ignored by her doctor post-partum. Black mothers consistently balance the joy...

    Kalyn WomackAugust 14, 2020
  • No More Bumps: 5 Steps to Smooth Skin

    Ladies, it’s hard to feel nice and smooth after shaving when ingrown hairs and bumps immediately take the spotlight. However, not...

    Kalyn WomackAugust 13, 2020
  • Healthy Social Media Use

    Social media presence has increased for decades, remaining incredibly prevalent in everyday life. Cultivate healthy habits by learning about the effects...

    Lydia SchapiroAugust 12, 2020
  • No Woman was Surprised by What Happened to AOC

    A few weeks ago, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was insulted by Representative Ted Yoho being called a “f—ing bitch” and “dangerous.” Afterwards,...

    Kalyn WomackAugust 12, 2020
  • The Meaning Behind #ChallengeAccepted

    Recently, a trend has surfaced on Instagram where women nominate one another privately to post a black and white picture of...

    Kalyn WomackAugust 11, 2020
  • Why Anti-feminism can be Fatal

    Recently, New Jersey Federal Judge Esther Salas and her family were attacked resulting in the loss of her son and injury...

    Kalyn WomackAugust 7, 2020
  • Elijah McClain: What to Know and What to Do

    Elijah McClain was a 23-year-old innocent black man killed by Colorado police. Recently, a peaceful protest and vigil in his honor...

    Kalyn WomackJuly 31, 2020
  • What does #FreeBritney Mean?

    Dedicated Britney Spears fans have been in fear of her safety during quarantine. They noticed her social media presence to be...

    Kalyn WomackJuly 23, 2020
  • How The Handmaid’s Tale Remains Relevant

    The Handmaid's Tale seems to reflect our world today. Is Atwood's novel entirely dystopian, or is she warning us?

    Lydia SchapiroJuly 23, 2020
  • 6 False Assumptions about Mental Illness

    There are various stigmas surrounding mental illness, and it is often difficult for affected individuals to feel appreciated. Learning about mental...

    Lydia SchapiroJuly 16, 2020