Pope Francis and a senior Muslim cleric on Monday issued a joint call for freedom of belief during the first trip by a head of the Catholic Church to the Arabian Peninsula, AFP reported. Pope Francis is on a historic three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The pontiff held talks in Abu Dhabi with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, who is the imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar – Sunni Islam’s prestigious seat of learning. The two religious leaders signed a document on “human fraternity for world peace and living together”, which the Vatican described an “important step forward in the dialogue between Christians and Muslims”.

The two leaders called for “freedom of belief”, the “promotion of a culture of tolerance”, the “protection of places of worship” and “full citizenship” rights for minorities.

“It is... crucial to establish in our societies the concept of full citizenship and reject the discriminatory use of the term minorities which engenders feelings of isolation and inferiority,” the document said.

It said freedom was the right of every person. “...each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action.” “The fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept,” it said.

Pope Francis also addressed an interfaith meeting attended by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb and UAE leaders, where he pushed for an end to the wars in East Asia, including in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya.

The pope will also hold an open-air mass on Tuesday for 1.35 lakh Catholics in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed on Monday gifted the pope a deed for the plot of land on which the first church in the UAE was built. Pope Francis in turn gave him a framed medallion of the meeting between St Francis Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt Malek al-Kamel in 1219.