A Virginia leader of multi-ethnic and religious dialogue was one of five people to make a presentation to Pope Benedict XVI at an interfaith meeting Thursday night - the pope's final event in the nation's capital.
Saman Hussain, a 22-year-old Muslim woman who lives in Fairfax County, gave the pope an ornate copy of the Quran, the holy book of Islam.
Four others delivered to the pope gifts reflecting Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism at the meeting with about 200 leaders of diverse religions.
Hussain, who was selected by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to make the Muslim presentation to the pontiff, spoke briefly with Benedict upon delivering the gift in a televised ceremony.
"I explained to him what it was and thanked him," she said in an interview. "He looked at it and said, 'This is beautiful.'"
"The act of giving the Quran and him receiving it" was more important than anything she could have told the pope, Hussain said of the brief exchange and "powerful" silence she shared with the pontiff.
She said she was glad to see the pope turn the world's attention to religious diversity during his historic visit to Washington.
"I hope we see more of this here and in the rest of the world," Hussain said. "In our increasingly interdependent world today, it's increasingly important for all faiths and peoples to come together."
As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, where she first studied Judaism before expanding to other world religions, Hussain worked to foster interfaith dialogue, eventually working at the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington upon graduation in 2007.
As coordinator of the 2007 Washington Unity Walk in memory of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, Hussain has seen religions work together.
"I believe we worship the same God - Christians, Muslims and Jews. It's important we realize that," she said. "We do share similar sentiments for the need ... for dialogue and understanding."