Muslims, Catholics In Joint Call For Religious Freedom

VATICAN CITY (AFP) — Muslims and Catholics on Thursday issued a joint call for religious freedom, non-violence and a fairer world after landmark inter-faith talks at the Vatican.

The three-day forum was “one more step along the way towards greater understanding between Muslims and Christians,” Pope Benedict XVI said of the gathering, two years after he sparked Muslim outrage with a speech seen as linking Islam with violence.

The closed-door discussions were marked by “rare frankness,” one of the Muslim participants, Italian Yahia Pallavicini, told AFP.

Another participant, French Catholic academic Joseph Maila, said sensitive words such as “Islamophobia” were discussed, while Swiss intellectual Tariq Ramadan said: “We agreed that it was impossible to avoid certain sensitive issues.”

Benedict, who met the 58 participants in the sumptuous Clementine Hall, used for grand occasions at the Vatican, said the differing concepts of God should not prevent the two faiths from showing “mutual respect.”

He stressed the importance of “freedom of conscience and freedom of religion,” saying: “My hope … is that these fundamental human rights will be protected for all people everywhere.”

The persecution of minority Christians, notably in Muslim countries, is a continuing concern of the Roman Catholic Church and the subject of frequent appeals by the pope.

Speaking for the Muslim delegation, Seyyed Hossein Nasr of Iran, a professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, warned for his part against “aggressive proselytising… in the name of freedom.”

The forum’s 15-point final declaration called for “respect of the person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion (and) the right of individuals and communities to practice their religion in private and public.”

It said religious minorities are “entitled to their own places of worship, and their founding figures and symbols they consider sacred should not be subject to any form of mockery or ridicule.”

The participants also condemned #8220;oppression, aggressive violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion.”

And they called “for an ethical financial system in which the regulatory mechanisms consider the situation of the poor and disadvantaged, both as individuals and as indebted nations.”

The Vatican seminar, which the delegates said was held in a “warm and convivial spirit,” was organised in response to a Muslim call for dialogue issued in October 2006, a month after Benedict’s controversial speech in Regensburg, Germany.

Each delegation included 24 participants and five advisors.

Another such forum will be held in a Muslim country, yet to be designated, in 2010.