An American Christian woman who says she used to “hate Muslims” ended up falling in love with an Afghan refugee – and now she hopes that their romance will inspire and educate others.
30-year-old Krystal Ashley says she and Rayi Khan are similar to a “modern day Romeo and Juliet” after they kindled a relationship in spite of their contrasting backgrounds.
Ashley, who works as a teaching assistant, was raised in a conservative family and admits that she was once very intolerant of Islam following 9/11.
Meanwhile, 31-year-old Khan is a Muslim who fled Kabul for Paris to escape the Taliban.
“Not at all in my wildest dreams did I expect that I was going to fall in love with someone from Afghanistan,” said the English tutor. “I had grown up in a very conservative home, and after 9/11, I jumped on the anti-Muslim bandwagon that was going on in the States.
The pair’s unlikely romance began in July 2016 when they met through friends during a soccer match in Paris, where Ashley was volunteering with a Christian nonprofit.
“It’s a complete 180,” she continued. “My first impression of Rayi was just that he was super soft-spoken and he just seemed super gentle and kind, and I did find that kind of surprising.
They kept their relationship secret at first and Khan still hasn’t told his family because they are unlikely to accept his new girlfriend – especially since he was forced into an arranged marriage at the age of 16.
Ashley, from King and Queen County in Virginia, said Khan being married was an issue for her at first, but she has come to accept it because the marriage is null in France.
Additionally, she says the relationship has challenged her to become more open-minded.
“I tried to keep [the relationship] a secret from everyone I knew because most of the people I knew were very conservative Christian, so it was quite the scandal. On the other hand, his family basically would never accept me.
“Also, our nations, America and Afghanistan, have been at war for a long time and his people have a lot of hard feelings against the American government,” says Ashley. “It’s a true, modern, Romeo and Juliet.”
Ashley moved to Paris in 2012 to work as a teaching assistant and began volunteering in the midst of the refugee crisis in December 2015.
Khan fled Afghanistan in 2012 and spent time in Bulgaria before moving to France in 2014 where he was granted refugee status and granted temporary residency.
He said both his parents were murdered by the Taliban and the Islamic fundamentalist group had threatened him because he worked for an American contractor building warehouses.
“When we talked about it it made me cry. It’s just so hard to fathom that someone can live through so much violence and come out and are still a good person,” says Ashley. “He has got this soft, gentle spirit. It is heartbreaking for me to imagine him going through so much. It made me cry when he told me.”
Khan, who does not wish to include his real name for security reasons, added: “I had a good life in Afghanistan … but I had so many problems with the Taliban and the government, I had to leave everything.”
“But the best part about being with Krystal is having someone close to me who I can trust.
“Before, I spent so much time alone, going in the Metro every day. I just listened to music to pass the time. Even when I was with my friends I wasn’t really there, I was feeling unhappy,” says Khan. “Krystal has helped me so much, and she makes me feel full. I know she loves me, for real, not because of obligation or because of money.”
The loved-up pair admit they have encountered some cultural roadblocks, but Krystal said that since they are both open-minded, they make sure to have plenty of free discussions about their beliefs.
“Culturally we have very different upbringings,” says Ashley. “Sometimes I struggle with it, but the good outweighs the bad.”
As for the future, the couple aren’t sure whether kids or marriage are on the cards. For now, they are taking each day as it comes.
Ashley concluded her story by saying: “I think people will be surprised by our relationship, but I hope they will read this and rethink things in their mind about their perceptions of people in Afghanistan.”
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