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May 30, 2017

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Couple's love bridges Myanmar religious divide

SITTWE, Myanmar -- Praying with a Koran on his knees in a mud-strewn camp, Rohin Mullah is one of thousands of Muslims uprooted by sectarian bloodshed in Myanmar. But the former monk's story is far from normal.

Born a Buddhist, he fell in love with a girl on the other side of the religious divide — a member of the Rohingya minority group shunned by Myanmar society at large.

He has since been ostracized by his former neighbors, lost his home and lives in a camp for displaced people in western Rakhine state, which is reeling from an upsurge of Buddhist-Muslim violence since June.

"The Rakhine side hated me when I converted to Islam," he said

Mullah, 37, who changed his name from Kyaw Tun Aung, has had no contact with his parents since he married 10 years ago.

"For three days, my mother asked me why I was going to Islam, and I said that I didn't like Buddhism, that I thought it was not the right religion," he recalled.

His wife Amina, a round-faced 30-year-old with her hair tucked under a headscarf, said that despite the lack of tolerance for their marriage, they had "a very happy life" together.

"But since the violence, our life is hard," she added.

Mullah, a construction worker, lived with his wife and three children in Rayngwesu, a Muslim district of the Rakhine state capital Sittwe, until clashes engulfed their neighborhood in June.

He said the family's home was one of the first to be torched.

Mullah's background as a Rakhine Buddhist — who spent four years as a monk before converting one-and-a-half decades ago — did not help protect his home.

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