Riyadh - Saudi women should not have to wear the loose-fitting abaya robe to shroud their bodies in public, a senior cleric said, in the latest sign of a far-reaching liberalisation drive.
"More than 90 percent of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas," said Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars - the kingdom's highest religious body.
"So we should not force people to wear abayas," he told a television programme broadcast on Friday.
Saudi Arabia, which has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women, requires them to wear the garment by law.
READ: Saudis to open sports stadiums to women in reform push
The government has not said whether it will change the law, but this is the first such comment from a senior religious figure.
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.
Sheikh Mutlaq's comment sparked a host of reactions on social media, including from other clerics who backed his statement.
One Saudi Twitter user commented: "Chastity and morality should not be tied to a piece of cloth."