On 16th December 2022, the Saudi Education and Training Evaluation Commission (ETEC) announced that female students in Saudi Arabia will no longer be allowed to wear the abaya in exam halls. It is notable that abaya is an Arabic term for a long, loose outer garment.
In Muslim-majority regions such as North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the majority of the Middle East, women typically use an abaya or cloak. The ETEC has instructed the students to wear their prescribed uniforms while attempting the examinations.
According to the Ministry of Education and ETEC, which accredits educational and training systems, female students are required to wear school uniforms inside exam rooms to comply with public decency laws in the country. ETEC tweeted, “It is necessary to adhere to the attire that conforms to the regulation of preserving public decency in the examination venues, bearing in mind that it is forbidden to wear the abaya at the time of the examination.”
يتوجب الإلتزام بالزي المتوافق مع لائحة المحافظة على الذوق العام في مقرات الاختبارات، مع العلم أنه يُمنع ارتداء العباءة وقت أداء الاختبار.
— العناية بالمستفيدين (@EtecCare) December 16, 2022
Abaya was earlier legally enforced in Saudi Arabia. But in 2018, Saudi Arabia announced that it will not be a compulsion anymore. Mohammad Bin Salman, the crown prince of the kingdom, announced the decision as the country’s recognition of women’s rights continues to grow, with major successes including the decision to permit women to participate in mixed-gender public sporting events and the freedom to drive effective this summer.
In an interview with CBS television in 2018, Mohammad Bin Salman said, “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of sharia (Islamic law): that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. 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.”
It is notable that this decision to ban the abaya in Saudi Arabia has come at a time when Islamists in India are fighting a court battle to get permission for Muslim girl students to wear a hijab on educational premises despite the institutions having a prescribed uniform dress code. Agitation for this shook Karnataka at the beginning of 2022 and then the matter reached the court of law. Muslim political leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM also keep on making statements about hijab once in a while. Owaisi had said that he wants to see a woman wearing a hijab become the prime minister of the country.