Women in Saudi Arabia should not be forced to wear a black abaya – a loose-fitting robe – or a head scarf as it is not stipulated in the Sharia, or Islamic law, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told a United States-based television network on Sunday.

“The laws are very clear and stipulated in Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men,” Salman said in an interview with CBS on Sunday. “This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. It is entirely left to women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire they choose to wear.”

When asked whether men and women were equal, the crown prince said “we are all human beings and there is no difference”. Salman also said that his government was working on an initiative to introduce equal pay for men and women.

A top Saudi cleric had expressed similar views in February. “More than 90% of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear abayas,” Sheikh Abdullah al-Mutlaq, a member of the council of senior scholars, had said during a radio programme.

Crown Prince Salman claimed that the 1979 Iranian Revolution had made Saudi Arabians victims of “intolerance”, and that the Ayatollah Khomeini regime had established a theocracy in Tehran. He also denied that the Saudi Arabia of today was the “real” Saudi Arabia.

“We were living a very normal life like the rest of the Gulf countries,” Salman said. “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.”

The crown prince added that “extremists” in Saudi Arabia had forbidden men and women from interacting, which he said contradicted the way of life practiced during the time of Prophet Mohammad and the caliphs.

In a clip of the interview released on Thursday, the crown prince had told the broadcaster that Saudi Arabia would develop a nuclear weapon if Iran did so.

Recent reforms in Saudi Arabia

In September 2017, it was announced that women will be allowed to drive from June 2018 for the first time in the kingdom. In January, the country allowed women to enter sports stadiums, and late in February, Saudi Arabia allowed women to join the military. The country held a marathon for women in the first week of March.