America Must Save Muslims Facing Death by Extremists
I had the most amazing experience last Friday.
Ever since the New York Times first published the story of a young couple named Zakia and Mohammed Ali, who came to be known as the Afghani Romeo and Juliet, I have endeavored, together with philanthropist Dr. Miriam Adelson, to help save the couple’s lives. Zakia and Mohammed wanted to marry each other — against the wishes of their families in Afghanistan — and then faced an honor killing,
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, her husband and her baby into the United States. For the past two years, Miriam has pushed me and others relentlessly to do everything in our power to help rescue this couple from tragedy. She was invested in heart, mind and pocket in helping the couple in every way, and did 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.
When the story first came out in a major feature in Times in March 2014, I was contacted by Miriam, who wanted to rescue the couple. I was able to track down Rod Nordland, the Times’ Pulitzer-Prize winning 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.
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 very grateful to host Fatima and her family just a month ago at our Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala. She presented by Miriam and Sheldon Adelson with 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 United States.
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 last week.
Rod Nordland wrote to me a week ago saying that there’d 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, together with an outstanding organization called Women for Afghan Women, saved their lives. After that, it happened so quickly, then here I was — 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 in the United States. They do not read, speak, or write the language, 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 in the 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 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. That’s true of every immigrant. But a religion should never determine whether someone should be allowed to enter this great nation, which has once again proven that America is the shining beacon of freedom to the world.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach 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.