Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) was recently interviewed by journalist Norah O’Donnell and said, among many things, that Sharia law does not require women to wear the hijab and abaya.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman made the comments in a wide-ranging interview with the U.S. television channel CBS News. He explained that Sharia law only requires women to dress modestly, as it also does for men.
"The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men," the prince pointed out.
"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," he added.
The interview, which aired Sunday on the news magazine program 60 Minutes is the first given by a Saudi leader to a U.S. television channel since 2005.
Answering questions from O’Donnell, the 32-year-old prince addressed a range of issues including women's rights, the kingdom's rapid efforts to modernize, regional tensions, and his efforts to return the kingdom to "moderate Islam."
Here is everything you need to know about the crown prince's first U.S. TV interview.
1. On 'moderate Islam' and women's rights
MbS pointed out that the conservative and sometimes oppressive policies of Saudi Arabia are not historically part of the kingdom nor Islam.
"This is not the real Saudi Arabia. I would ask your viewers to use their smartphones to find out. And they can google Saudi Arabia in the 70s and 60s, and they will see the real Saudi Arabia easily in the pictures," he explained.
"We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries. Women were driving cars. There were movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. Women worked everywhere. We were just normal people developing like any other country in the world until the events of 1979."
Under the new leadership of Prince Mohammed and his father King Salman, things are changing rapidly in the kingdom, especially for women.
Just in the past year, Saudi Arabia moved to guarantee women the right to drive, opened up new opportunities in the security services and the military to women, and opened traditionally male-only events to allow women to attend. When asked if women are equal to men, the crown prince responded with a firm "absolutely."
"We are all human beings and there is no difference," he said.
At the same time, Prince Mohammed recognized that there is still significant progress to be made.
"Today, Saudi women still have not received their full rights. There are rights stipulated in Islam that they still don't have. We have come a very long way and have a short way to go."
2. On 'extremists' in the kingdom
The prince also referred to those standing in the way of change as "extremists."
"We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone, together, and their being together in a workplace. Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the prophet and the Caliphs. This is the real example and the true model."
The kingdom's leaders have recently moved to curb the powers of the religious police. Formerly, these individuals would target and arrest women and other individuals they saw to be violating their strict interpretation of Sharia.
3. On reform and the kingdom's young population
Although older Saudis may have accepted these conservative policies, the prince pointed out that the kingdom's increasingly young population was dissatisfied and ready for serious reforms. This includes new economic policies, which aim to expand opportunities for Saudis.
"We had a young population. And we were providing for the population, you know subsidized energy, subsidized water, subsidized medicine, subsidized education, we subsidized everybody's life."
Under the prince's reform plan, Saudi citizens are seeing fewer subsidies but are being provided more work opportunities. Taxes have also been instituted for the first time, however, Saudi leaders have promoted the changes as a way to move the kingdom forward despite changing economic realities.
When asked if Saudi Arabia was heading toward an economic collapse before the reforms were put in place, Prince Mohammed suggested the changes came as a necessary precaution at an early enough stage.
"I don't think [economic collapse] was extremely close, but it was heading in that direction," he said.
4. On regional tensions
When it comes to regional tensions, particularly with Iran, the prince said Saudi Arabia is prepared to deal with any potential threat.
Citing the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons, he said the kingdom would "without a doubt" do the same in response.
"We don’t want to acquire nuclear weapons. But, if Iran develops a bomb, we will do the same in the near future."
However, Prince Mohammed dismissed Iran as an insignificant threat to the kingdom.
"Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia," he said.
The crown prince also explained why he readily refers to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei as "the new Hitler."
"He wants to expand. He wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time," Prince Mohammed said.
"Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realize how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don't want to see the same events happening in the Middle East."
Looking to the future of the kingdom, O’Donnell also suggested that Prince Mohammed could reign for many years to come, pointing out his relatively young age.
"Only God knows how long one will live, if one would live 50 years or not, but if things go their normal ways, then that's to be expected," the prince said in response.
When asked if anything could stop him and his plan to reform the kingdom, the prince responded quickly and confidently.
"Only death," he said.