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Egypt's deadly rumors of interfaith marriage

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(Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

(Read caption) Egyptians gather as firefighters extinguish a fire on a church after clashes between Muslims and Christians in Cairo on May 7, 2011.

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Once again, rumors of an interfaith marriage between a Christian (a former one) and a Muslim have sparked riots in Egypt. Thirteen people were killed and two churches set ablaze in street fighting between Muslims and Christians – called Copts in Egypt – over the weekend. Hundreds were injured.

A human-rights expert I talked to said the rumors are a pretext for Muslim fundamentalists to incite sectarian strife. Interfaith marriage is not the root cause of religious violence, explained Dwight Bashir, at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in Washington. Indeed, both the Coptic and Muslim religious organizations in Egypt forbid interfaith marriage.

Understood. But I can't stop thinking about this bloodshed and its connection to marriages of mixed faiths, especially given the trend toward interfaith unions in the United States.

According to the 2008 US Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 37 percent of American marriages mix faiths. "American Grace," a 2010 book by co-authors Robert Putnam (of "Bowling Alone" fame) and David Campbell puts the percentage at more than half. Whatever the exact proportion, the rate of interfaith unions in the US has grown rapidly in the last two decades, from about 25 percent.

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