SHOPPERS in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia are stunned by rebellious women swapping full-length robes for Western-style clothes.
Despite being out in public, some are daringly ditching their traditional abaya robes, which encompass their bodies from head-to-toe.
Among those brave enough to defy wearing the customary abaya is a defiant Mashael al-Jaloud, 33.
When the human resources specialist recently walked through a mall in central Riyadh, clad in an orange top and baggy trousers, fellow shoppers were amazed.
Given the rare spectacle, some even asked her if she was a model.
One curious woman asked her: “Are you famous?”
But Jaloud laughed and replied that she was a normal Saudi woman, reports the Mail Online.
She hasn’t always been left amused though as, in another instance, one irritated woman, who was fully veiled at a Riyadh supermarket, threatened to dob her in to the cops.
Jaloud said: “There are no clear laws, no protection. I might be at risk, might be subjected to assault from religious fanatics because I am without an abaya.”
The strict religious dress code, under sharia – Islamic law – for women in Saudi Arabia requires them to wear the loose robes in public, and throughout most of the country to hide their hair and bodies.
While the robes have been around for thousands of years, they became obligatory in recent decades, with religious police enforcing the code in Saudi Arabia.
But in March last year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de factor ruler, said that women didn’t need to wear abayas, as he said they weren’t mandatory in Islam.
However, women in Saudi Arabia said nothing had changed in their day-to-day lives, and demanded greater freedom to wear something other than the robes, without the risk of being accosted in public.
An editor and TV anchor tweeted: “Not forcing ‘Abaya’ upon Saudi women is definitely a step in the fight direction.
“However, a gradual change in dress styles may help to win sustained support for the move and may prevent a backlash, reports Middle East Monitor.
The website points out that while the crown prince has granted new “freedoms”, these boundaries haven’t been tested, and those challenging them are not being widely embraced among the conservative population.
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Another woman shedding the robes is Manahel al-Otaibi, a 25-year-old activist, reports news.com.au.
While walking along a restaurant-lined street, in casual overalls, she said: “For four months I have been living in Riyadh without an abaya.
“I just want to live the way I want, freely and without restrictions. No one should force me to wear something I don’t want.”
Last week, The Sun Online reported that Sinead O’Connor stepped out in traditional religious dress, after converting to Islam in October last year.
The 52-year-old singer wore a bright red abaya and a matching hijab as she appeared on RTE One’s The Late Late Show in Dublin.
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