Saudi cleric issues clarification on abaya ruling after backlash
Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the kingdom's highest religious body, published an online statement on Saturday responding to accusations that he had called for women dress immodestly.
"Women must dress in accordance with Islamic law… this means covering the head and shoulder as well as their bodies with loose fitting clothing that does not reveal the body," Mutlaq said on Twitter.
"The clothing must not resemble that of immodest men and women, be thick and non-transparent and not be perfumed,"
The scholar denied reports that he had called on women to take off their hijabs and show off their bodies.
Mutlaq told a radio programme on Friday that "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," he added.
Saudi Arabia, which has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women, requires them to wear the abaya by law.
The call was received mixed reactions on social media with conservatives condemning the move while some clerics have backed his statement.
"Sheikh Mutlaq must appear on television to fully clarify his remark and take back this peculiar fatwa," said one Twitter user.
Another user said: "I think Sheikh Mutlaq has made a mistake with this ruling. People will misconstrue his statement and think religious clothing is not mandatory."
Many slammed the debate as another example of men imposing their will on women.
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 an abaya.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has recently introduced a series of reforms in favour of women as the kingdom prepares for a post-oil era.
Saudi Arabia last month allowed women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a game.
The move came four months after the kingdom announced an end to a long-standing ban on women driving - a major change to the country's ultra-conservative social order.
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.