Lunch with the Afghani Muslim Romeo and Juliet

I had the most amazing lunch today. Ever since The New York Times first published the story about the Afghani Romeo and Juliet, a young couple named Zakia and Mohammed Ali, who simply wanted to marry each other and then faced an honor killing, I have endeavored, together with philanthropist Dr. Miriam Adelson, to help save the couple’s life.

As is by now well known, when the story first came out in March 2014 I was contacted by Miriam, who was so moved by the story of romantic love and total devotion that she wanted to do anything to save the couple’s life. Inspired by Miri’s total dedication to rescuing the couple, I was able to track down Rod Nordland, The New York Times’ Kabul bureau chief, and start a process of trying to rescue the couple.
We approached almost everyone. I had private meetings with Samantha Power, the American Ambassador to the United Nations. I discussed the issue with several Senators including Robert Menendez, Cory Booker, Ted Cruz, Congressman Ed Royce, Governor Chris Christie and others trying to highlight to them that this couple represented arguably the most famous story about honor killings anywhere in the world and that we have to make every effort to rescue their lives.

I had several meetings with the staff of Ambassador Power and at the height of the presidential primaries I discussed the couple’s case with a few of the Republican contenders. We were later able to rescue Fatima Kazimi, who was head of the Bamian Women’s Ministry, and her family who came under threat after helping Zakia. Through the good graces of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, we were able to move Fatima and her family to Rwanda and ultimately Fatima was able to then gain asylum in the Untied States. She now lives in Maryland.

We very grateful to host Fatima and her family just a month ago at our Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala, but never did I expect that Zakia and Mohammad Ali would themselves get out so quickly after so many false starts.

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Rod Nordland, the great hero of the story who works for The New York Times and who authored the best selling book “The Lovers” about their story, wrote to me a week ago saying that there’s been a major breakthrough and it looked like the American government was going to allow Zakia and Mohammad Ali to come to the United States. Rod saved their lives. After that, it happened so quickly, then here I was today finally meeting them face to face and taking them out to a kosher restaurant together with Rod Nordland in New York City.

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As Muslims, they can eat at a kosher restaurant because kosher meat is automatically halal. It’s beautiful to see their gorgeous little daughter, Ruqia. It was also beautiful to see the two of them together.

What inspires me is their devotion and dedication to their Islamic faith, with Zakia having her head covered and the two of them eating only within their dietary requirements.

Their journey is only just beginning, and they have to acclimate to their new environment in the United States. They do not read, speak, or write the language, and the financial challenges they face are considerable. But to see they alive, well, and safe from an honor killing, and invited in by the great United States was truly a blessing.

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Let this give all of us automatic pause on a ban on any religious group coming into the United States. Without a doubt, people need to be vetted before they come to the US to make sure they’re not a danger or a threat. But a religion should never determine whether someone should be allowed to enter this great nation, that has once again proved, by taking in a couple in great danger, that America is the shining beacon of freedom to the world.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.
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