AMMAN (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI underlined his deep respect for Islam on Friday in Jordan, on his first trip as pontiff to an Arab state, and stressed that religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Speaking after a red carpet welcome from King Abdullah II and Queen Rania at Queen Alia Airport at the start of an eight-day tour of the Holy Land, the Pope said he came to Jordan as a pilgrim. The visit 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. The Pope stressed that he viewed religious freedom as a fundamental human right. It is my fervent hope and prayer that respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of every man and woman will come to be increasingly affirmed and defended, not only throughout the Middle East, but in every part of the world, he said. En route to Amman, the Pope told journalists that dialogue between Christianity, Judaism and Islam is very important for peace and so that everyone can follow the tenets of their faith. The church is not a political force but a spiritual force which can contribute to the progress of the peace process in the Middle East, he said. In his welcoming address, King Abdullah urged an expansion of Christian-Muslim dialogue to dispel divisions. Stressing the importance of co-existence and harmony between Muslim and Christian, the monarch warned that voices of provocation, ambitious ideologies of division, threaten unspeakable suffering. We welcome your commitment to dispel the misconceptions and divisions that have harmed relations between Christians and Muslims... It is my hope that together we can expand the dialogue we have opened, he told the pontiff. Benedict then travelled to the capital some 30km away for his first stop, the Regina Pacis centre for the handicapped. The crowd sang songs in Arabic welcoming him, and chanted benvenuto, the Italian for welcome, as they ran alongside his vehicle. Friends, unlike the pilgrims of old, I do not come bearing gifts or offerings. I come simply with an intention, a hope, to pray for the precious gift of unity and peace, most specifically for the Middle East, the Pope said. After his arrival Benedict stressed that his first Holy Land trip as pontiff is a pilgrimage. I come to Jordan as a pilgrim, to venerate holy places that have played such an important part in some of the key events of Biblical history, he said. The pope will divide his visit between Jordan and Israel, with a stop in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday.