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Coverings for women 'not mandatory', says Saudi crown prince ahead of US charm offensive

Saudi Arabia requires women to wear the abaya by law [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 March, 2018

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Saudi women do not have to wear the traditional abaya gown and hijab headscarf, Riyadh's powerful crown prince has claimed, ahead of a three-week US charm offensive.

Saudi women do not have to wear the traditional abaya gown and hijab headscarf, Riyadh's powerful crown prince has claimed ahead of a three-week US charm offensive.

Mohammed bin Salman said women in Saudi Arabia do not have to wear the traditional abaya gown and hijab headscarf, during an interview with US broadcaster CBS  published Monday.

Islamic clothing in Saudi Arabia is compulsory, but the crown prince has claimed this does not have to the case so long as women maintain a modest appearance in public.

Saudi Arabia requires women to wear the black robe and hijab by law.

"The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men," Prince Mohammed said in his first US television interview.

"This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear," he said.

Prince Mohammed also said that authorities were working to come up with regulations to ensure equal pay for men and women.

The crown prince is set to meet with US President Donald Trump in Washington on Tuesday.

Prince Mohammed has implemented some reforms on women's rights, pushing for greater participation in the workforce and lifting a ban on women driving.

But women still face a number of restrictions.

Under Saudi Arabia's existing guardianship system, a male family member - normally the father, husband or brother - must grant permission for a woman's study, travel and a host of other activities.

"We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a workplace. Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the Prophet," the Prince said.

In February, leading Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Mutlaq also said that the loose-fitting abaya was not mandatory for women.

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

In 2016, a Saudi woman received death threats after a picture emerged online of her walking in the streets of the capital Riyadh not wearing the gown.

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