A joint declaration issued at the end of the Vatican's three-day Muslim-Catholic forum has called for recognition by both Muslims and Christians of the rights of women and freedom of conscience, and condemned terrorism in the name of religion.
The statement, which Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told The Times "goes further than previous declarations", said "We affirm that God's creation of humanity has two great aspects, the male and female human person, and we commit ourselves jointly to ensuring that human dignity and respect are extended on an equal basis to both men and women".
It added: "Genuine love of neighbour implies respect of the person and her or his choices in matters of conscience and religion. It includes the right of individuals and communities to practice their religion in private and public. "
The declaration condemned any "mockery or ridicule" of religious symbols and affirmed the importance of religion in a world "which is becoming more and more secularised and materialistic". The plurality of cultures and civilisations must never become a "cause of tension and conflict", the statement said. Catholics and Muslims "are called to be instruments of love and harmony among believers, and for humanity as a whole, renouncing any oppression, violence and terrorism, especially that committed in the name of religion".
In a reference to the global financial crisis, the declaration said believers should work 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". A second Catholic-Muslim meeting is to be held "in approximately two years in a a Muslim majority country yet to be determined".
Ingrid Mattson, the Canadian Muslim convert, said the meeting had "exceeded expectations". She said both Muslims and Christians felt "alarm and shame" over the way religious "misunderstandings" and "fear of the other" had been used to fuel conflict "in an absolutely unacceptable way" when both Islam and Christianity were based on "compassion and piety".
Sayyed Hussein Nasr, an Iranian Muslim scholar at George Washington University, said Islam was "no less in favour of religious freedom than Christianity". Asked if Muslims were free to convert to Christianity or any other religion, he said that in the past Muslims had been killed for doing so because religion was "closely allied to the state" and conversion was therefore tantamount to treason.
But he said the same had been true of Christianity, citing the execution of St Thomas More by Henry VIII. He said many Muslim jurists were now "redefining" the concept of apostasy.