Pope Benedict XVI and the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Shaykh Mustafa Ceric, clasped hands and then hugged Thursday as the pontiff met participants at historic talks aimed at defusing tensions between Catholics and Muslims, reported dpa.
"I was pleased to learn that you were able at this meeting to adopt a common position on the need to worship God totally and to love our fellow men and women disinterestedly, especially those in distress and need," Benedict told attendees of the Catholic-Muslim Forum.
The forum was to wrap up three days of talks at the Vatican with a public session later Thursday.
Ceric, who headed the Muslim representatives in the forum, said the talks represented a "great step," both for Christian-Muslim relations and for "the whole of humanity."
He thanked the pope for his "warm hospitality," and reminded the pontiff that his predecessor, John Paul II, had prayed for him during the four-year siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s.
The forum stems from an October 2007 open letter sent by 138 Muslim representatives to the pope and to the heads of other Christian churches, inviting them to engage in dialogue.
The letter proposed working together to avoid a repetition of incidents such as the violent protests in the Islamic world triggered by the 2005 publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.
Under the theme "Love of God, Love of Neighbour," the talks also represent the latest move in rapprochement between the Vatican and Muslims since Benedict's controversial 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany in which he appeared to associate Islam with violence.
Benedict on Thursday, stressed "fundamental human rights," which he said, Christians and Muslims shared.
"Political and religious leaders have the duty of ensuring the free exercise of these rights in full respect for each individual's freedom of conscience and freedom of religion," the pontiff told forum members, including representatives from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Western nations.
The Vatican, which emphasizes the need for "reciprocity" in relations between different religions, has lamented that those who convert from Islam to other religions often face persecution in some predominantly Muslim countries.
"The discrimination and violence which even today religious people experience throughout the world, and the often violent persecutions to which they are subject, represent unacceptable and unjustifiable acts, all the more grave and deplorable when they are carried out in the name of God," Benedict said, without giving specific examples.
US-based Islamic scholar, Seyyed Hossein Nasr who also spoke at the papal audience, touched on the volatile issue of Christians spreading their message among Muslims.
"Muslims do not allow an aggressive proselytizing in our midst that would destroy our faith in the name of freedom," Nasr told the pontiff.
Christians would also adopt the same stance, if they were "in our situation," he added, without providing further details.