A Saudi rebellious Saudi woman went through a Riyadh mall without a body-shrouding abaya, which is usually a totally black over-garment used by women as customary public wear in the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom. It is widely seen as a symbol of devotion. 

Last year, during an interview with CBS, de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ruled that the dress code may be relaxed and that the garment was not mandatory in Islam.

But despite his sweeping liberalization drive, the practice continued as no formal edict followed. Protesting against the restriction, some women subsequently raised a rare social media protest posting pictures of themselves wearing the figure-concealing garment inside out.

However, many others have already left their cloaks open in the front or wear them in bright colors. The lady, Mashael al-Jaloud has taken the cultural rebellion a step further as she stopped wearing the robe.

Taking an exceptional move, the 33-year-old human resources specialist walked through a mall in central Riyadh last week wearing nothing but a burnt orange top over baggy trousers. When she was walking through the crowd many stared at her head-to-toe with arched eyebrows. Some others mistook her for a celebrity.

A woman came to her asking, “Are you famous?”

“Are you a model?”

Jaloud replied smiling she was a normal Saudi woman. Jaloud is one of those women who have abandoned the abaya in recent months. A 25-year-old Manahel al-Otaibi has also foregone the garment.

While walking along Tahlia street, Otaibi said that “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.”

The abaya is also mandatory for non-Muslim women in the Kingdom. Though it has existed for thousands of years only became obligatory in recent decades. “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,” Jaloud said.

Previously, in July, she had posted a video on Twitter revealing that another Riyadh mall had stopped her from entering without an abaya. She tried to persuade its guards by playing Prince Mohammed’s television interview, in which he said women were only expected to wear “decent, respectful clothing” — not necessarily an abaya.

But the mall tweeted replying to her post that it would not grant permission to enter to “violators of public morals”. She recently said that the same kind of hostility she faced at a Riyadh supermarket where a fully veiled woman threatened to call the police.

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