The new digital and social media to discover Arabia and the Middle East. Offbeat. Innovative.

These Saudi women who shun the abaya

Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salmane had recently announced it: the wearing of the abaya is not in fact mandatory in Islam, and therefore should not be imposed on the women of the kingdom. Since then, more and more of them have been questioning traditional black clothing...

After the Prince’s announcement, we had seen on social networks some abaya in flashy colors, or even worn upside down, and as we suspected, this was only the beginning.

The time, undoubtedly, for Saudi women to take the measure of this statement made by Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salmane, announcing a small “revolution” in clothing: the abaya, the traditional dress of the kingdom’s women, hitherto considered compulsory, is in fact only a custom, a custom that no one should be forced to observe against their will. 

Extraordinary ordinary dress code

You don’t have to tell Mashael al-Jaloud twice! The young woman recently staged herself in a video, walking the streets of Riyadh in “western” attire, wearing a set of an orange jacket and pants.

It goes without saying that the woman gets curious looks and remarks – admiring or offended – from several passers-by (some even asked if she was famous, or a model), but this does not cool down this 33-year-old human resources manager. 

Legal uncertainty? 

In fact, no official edit has confirmed the announcement of MBS. This is undoubtedly the reason why the abaya remains omnipresent, and probably also why the security guards of the shopping center in which the woman wanted to enter opposed it. Subsequently, the site even tweeted that it would not allow entry to “offenders of public morals”. Mentalities are still changing, an evolution that, in the absence of a well-established legal framework, may be a bit long to come.   

Emulation in motion 

Al-Jaloud is not the only one to be avant-garde in terms of clothing. For the past 4 months, Manahel al-Otaibi, a 25-year-old activist, has also been wearing ordinary clothes and has been proclaiming loud and clear her right to dress as she sees fit. For the time being, the two women have mixed opinions… On the street and on the networks, some find their clothes and behavior inappropriate, others support them… 

“Live as I want”

For Mashael al-Jaloud in any case, “The abaya has nothing to do with religion. If that were the case, Saudi women would not abduct her when they leave the country. The woman who describes herself as “an ordinary Saudi woman” explained to AFP that her only claim is to “live as I want, freely and without restrictions. No one should force me to wear something I don’t want.