Saudi cleric says women need not wear abaya robe in public

Saudi women should not have to wear the loose-fitting abaya robe to shroud their bodies in public, a senior cleric said, in the latest sign of a far-reaching liberalisation drive.

“More than 90% of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas,” said Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the council of senior scholars – the kingdom’s highest religious body.

“So we should not force people to wear abayas,” he told a television programme broadcast on Friday.