I had the most amazing experience last Friday.
Ever since The New York Times first published the story of the couple who came to be known as 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 lives.
A word about Miriam. Along with Rod Nordland, whom I’ll discuss in a moment, she is one of the true heroes of this incredible story.
At a time when America is debating whether Islamic immigrants should be allowed into the United States, here is one of the foremost donors to the Republican Party in the entire country endeavoring day and night to help save an Islamic woman from an honor killing and bring her and her husband and baby into the US. For the past two years Miriam has pushed me and others relentlessly to do everything in our power to help rescue this couple.
She has invested heart, mind and pocketbook in helping the couple in every way, and has done so with humility and total devotion.
That the world’s foremost Jewish philanthropist helped to rescue an Islamic family from harm speaks volumes about Jewish values and what all of us in the Jewish community can do to help others.
As is by now well known, when the story first came out in a major feature in the New York Times in March 2014, I was contacted by Miriam, who was so moved by this story of romantic love that she wanted to do anything to save the couple. Inspired by Miri’s relentless push to rescue the couple, I was able to track down Rod Nordland, the New York Times’ Pulitzer-prize winning Kabul bureau chief, and start the 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 had 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.
Our organization, The World Values Network, with a grant from Miriam Adelson, was later able to rescue Fatima Kazimi, who was the 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 United States. She now lives in Maryland.
We were very grateful to host Fatima and her family just a month ago at our Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala. She presented Miriam and Sheldon Adelson our “Champion of Women’s Rights Award.” It was an incredible spectacle to see the world’s foremost Jewish philanthropists being honored by an Islamic woman for rescuing her and her family and helping them come as refugees into the US.
Our dinner, which took place on Holocaust Remembrance Day, had many special moments, including addresses by Iranian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, Peter Bergson’s daughter Becky Cook, Israel lover and defender Pamela Anderson, Dr. Mehmet Oz with Hatzalah founder Eli Beer, and Marion and Elisha Wiesel. But Fatima’s moving speech kicked off the evening.
And I felt privileged enough just to meet Fatima. Never did I imagine that Zakia and Mohammad Ali would themselves get out so quickly after so many false starts and that I’d be sitting in a kosher restaurant in New York City having lunch with them.
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 experience, 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 US. Rod, together with an outstanding organization called Women for Afghan Women, saved their lives. After that, it happened so quickly, then here I was last Friday finally meeting them face to face over a kosher lunch together with Rod and their translator in New York City.(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.
They do not read, speak, or write English, and the financial challenges they face are considerable. Miriam Adelson has made a further financial commitment to them.
But to see them alive, well, and safe from an honor killing, and invited in by the great United States, was truly a blessing.
Let this moving story of America rescuing an Islamic family from certain death give all of us automatic pause on a ban on any religious group coming into the US. 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. That’s true of every immigrant.
But 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.The author, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 30 books, including his just-published, The Israel Warrior: Fighting Back for the Jewish State from Campus to Street Corner. Follow him on Twitter @ RabbiShmuley