The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today welcomed Pope Benedict XVI’s expression of respect for Islam and Muslims as he began his first trip to the Middle East.

After being greeted in Jordan by King Abdullah, the pope said: “My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by his majesty the king in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam.”

“We welcome Pope Benedict’s expression of respect and hope his positive statement will be reciprocated by leaders and ordinary people throughout the region,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.

Awad is a signatory, along with 137 other Muslim leaders and scholars, to an open letter titled “A Common Word Between Us and You,” which was sent to Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and more than 20 other Christian leaders in 2007.

The open letter was designed to promote understanding between Muslims and Christians worldwide.

CAIR, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties group, has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.