Saudi crown prince hosts Christian evangelicals from the U.S.
Saudi Arabia's crown prince hosted a delegation of American Christian evangelicals on Tuesday, state media said, the latest such visit as the conservative Muslim kingdom seeks to repair its image of religious intolerance.
The visit comes on the eve of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, in which most of the hijackers who crashed jetliners into the twin towers in New York were identified as Saudi nationals.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met the delegation, led by Israeli-American author Joel Rosenberg, at his palace in the western city of Jeddah, the official Saudi Press Agency said.
"Honoured to be back in kingdom of Saudi Arabia for (the second) time in less than a year," Rosenberg said on Twitter. "We met (with) his royal highness the crown prince (and) other senior officials to discuss terrorism, peace, religious freedom and human rights."
Saudi Arabia seen from above
Far from the glittering skyscrapers of Riyadh and Mecca mania, there is another side to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia just waiting to be discovered. By Eric Lafforgue
A view of an old village with traditional mud houses and gardens on the outskirts of the southern Saudi city of Dhahran Al Janub. The architecture recalls the famous city of Shibam in Yemen, known as the ʹManhattan of the desertʹ. Yemen is just 10km away. Dhahran Al Janub may not be in the desert, but deserves the nickname of Manhattan just the same. In former times, the well-tended gardens provided an escape route for occupants fleeing tribal raids
A stone and mud watchtower built with slates in Asir province of Saudi Arabia. Watchtowers served a dual purpose: monitoring enemy movements in the neighbourhood and keeping an eye on crops in this arid area. Nowadays, dotted along the main roads, they have became the symbol of Asir province
An ancient village with traditional mud houses close to the south-western city of Najran. More and more houses are being abandoned in favour of modern abodes, but Saudi families like to keep them for weekend getaways or for social events like weddings or get-togethers during Ramadan. Frequent use helps conserve these houses, many of which are over 200 years old. Many Saudis prefer to build a modern house close to the old family home
From the centre of Najran, it only takes a few minutes to reach the golden sands of the desert – entering the Rub Al Khali or 'empty quarter'. This was one of the spots visited by the late British adventurer Wilfred Thesiger. A local Saudi rabbit hunter who had lost his greyhound took advantage of the drone screen to locate his dog
Many imagine the Kingdom to be full of luxury buildings and signs of wealth, but outside the main cities, the country remains rural. This old village with traditional mud houses is in Asir province. The houses are called ʹmidmakhʹ. They may have up to seven floors. The thick walls are the best way to keep temperatures cool in summer. At the top, there are terraces to get fresher air
A black stone and mud house built with slates in Sarat Abidah village. While many people think Saudi Arabia is just a desert, the area is occasionally hit by heavy rain and the angled slates on these buildings help prevent water from getting inside and destroying the walls. The white corrugated metal roofs indicate houses that have been newly renovated
A view of traditional stone-built houses in the village of Al Olayan. High up in the mountains fog is nothing unusual. The people from the lowlands around Riyadh enjoy driving up there in the holidays to experience the rain and the fog – after all, down on the plain temperatures soar to above 40°C and there is no rain at all
Dhee Ayn village, which was abandoned around 30 years ago, is a 400-year-old stone settlement built on top of a hill in the Al-Bahah region. The houses of the village itself are made not of marble, but of stone. The village earns its "Marble Village" nickname for the rocky outcrop upon which it was built
Old houses in the al-Balad quarter of Jeddah, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Work is ongoing to conserve them, overseen by the Ministry of Culture. Tall buildings are covered with ʹmashrabiyaʹ, wooden shutters that allowed women to see without being seen. Few Saudis live in the old city these days. The neighbourhood is home to Somali, Pakistani and Yemeni refugees, who survive in precarious conditions – the area floods regularly, killing hundreds when the heavy rains reach the coast
This village in Asir province features houses made out of unique red mud and stone. While the properties are now crumbling, colourful murals still decorate the interior walls. In these houses, the ground floor was used for the livestock. The next level was for human accommodation, complete with small windows to keep out both the heat and intruders. Further up the building, the windows became larger to let in more light as well as cooler air
Traditional stone watchtowers stand tall in Addayer village, province of Jizan. The terraced land around the buildings allows locals to grow coffee in this remote mountainous area. Saudi people are very concerned about their privacy, but they enjoyed the use of the drone near their houses – discovering for the first time what their land looks like from above
A mud house on a farming complex near the city of Najran. The farm buildings in this area look like small castles with crenellations. This defensive architectural element reveals that the local people lived in continous fear of attack. Nowadays, visitors are more likely to find themselves being invited in to share a snack of dates dipped in hot ghee
A view of the abandoned Abdullah al-Suleiman palace in Taif, Mecca province. Many old palaces mixing Ottoman, Arab and Art Nouveau are just waiting for a cash injection from sponsors to be renovated. But help never comes and many are left to go to wrack and ruin, threatened by real estate speculation
A bird's eye view of Rijal Almaa, a village located in Asir province. This village was abandoned by local people around 30 years ago in favour of modern houses with electricity and running water. In a bid to save the ancient buildings, the village has now been turned into a huge open-air museum. The buildings are unique architecturally, with slabs of locally quarried stone
The delegation also met Prince Khalid bin Salman, the kingdom's deputy defence minister, and secretary-general of the Muslim World League Mohammed al-Issa, SPA reported.
The crown prince hosted a similar delegation led by Rosenberg that travelled last November to Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and where the practice of other religions is banned.
Saudi leaders have courted a flurry of representatives of various Christian traditions in recent months.
In April 2018, Saudi Arabia hosted French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who headed the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Tauran, who died in July 2018, was seen as an energetic promoter of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam.
And in November 2017, the head of Lebanon's Maronite church, Beshara Rai, paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia where he met King Salman and Prince Mohammed.
Prince Mohammed, the heir to the Saudi throne, has sought to project a moderate image of his austere kingdom, often associated in the West with jihadist ideology. The self-styled reformer has faced global criticism for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and the jailing of political activists and critics. (AFP)