Afghan Lovers

She is his Juliet and he is her Romeo, and her family has threatened to kill them both. Complicating matters, Mohammad Ali is a Hazara, who are mostly Shia Muslims. Zakia is a Tajik, a Sunni ethnic group. Neither can read, and they have never heard Shakespeare’s tale of doomed love. But there are plenty of analogues in the stories they are both steeped in, and those, too, end tragically. Their story evokes the tale of Princess Shirin and Farhad the stonecutter.

The couple’s story began on 2013  when Zakia fled her family’s home and asked to be taken in by Mohammad Ali, declaring her love for him. Although Zakia was legally an adult, Mohammad Ali’s father, Anwar, took her to a women’s shelter in Bamian Province.

Mohammad Ali, 21, and Zakia, 18. They are both the children of farmers in a remote mountain province. They are fugitives, but they are together at last, married by a mullah after being kept apart by disapproving families and the taboo of their different ethnicities and sects. Her family has threatened to kill them, and now they face potential arrest, too, as the police are seeking them on what the couple say are concocted charges of bigamy and “attempted adultery.”

In 21st-century Afghanistan, as well, life is no fairy tale, especially in rural places like Bamian. Young people who want to choose their own mates face the harsh reality that strict social traditions still trump new laws and expanded rights — and that honor killings in such cases remain endemic.

Aghan Couple is finally together, but a storybook ending is far from ensured. They are still on the run.