Miral Zahed was born in the city of Homs in 1979 to a Syrian father and Lebanese mother. She describes Homs as a small city, whose residents are modest and friendly with one another.
From a young age, Miral felt different from other girls her age, as her father trusted her and gave her a lot of freedom in a society that was quite conservative, especially when it came to their views toward women and girls.
Miral began working in aesthetics when she was eighteen years old, and her constant appearance out and about on her own, without a hijab on her head, attracted a lot of attention from people in the neighborhood. She was sometimes forced to have one of her family members accompany her on her way to work just to get tongues to stop wagging. She was also careful in her dealings with men she encountered through her work.
For two years, Miral managed a shop owned by one of her acquaintances before deciding to establish her own business. She traveled to Dubai to study aesthetics as her brother was a resident of the country, and when she came back, she opened her own beauty salon in partnership with one of her friends in the Karm al-Shami neighborhood, with the full encouragement of her parents.
“It was one of the proudest moments of my life,” recalls Miral, “when I saw my name written up there on the sign: Miral’s Beauty Salon for Women.”
A year and a half later, Miral moved her salon to a bigger location in a better neighborhood, working there until she got engaged to a man ten years older. Their wedding was held two months later and she was expected to follow him to Dubai, where he worked.
Miral says that her marriage took place very quickly and was quite traditional, despite the fact that she considered herself a rebel, refusing to live according to the rules imposed on her by her conservative society. But marriage was something she couldn’t rebel against, especially that she was twenty-five years old and most of her peers had been married for a while. Society tended to frown upon non-married relationships between men and women.
Her marriage only lasted for two months, the duration of which was characterized by her husband’s stinginess, cheating and emotional abuse. She returned after that to Syria, bereft of all hope, and had an abortion a few months later.
Miral describes her marriage as a painful and difficult experience, and she decided afterward to abandon the idea of another relationship. It was an experience, however, that also made her stronger, taught her many things and convinced her to push back harder against her circumstances.
Miral suffered a lot trying to get a divorce, a process that dragged on for three and a half years. She encountered many cases of wives so distressed by their situations they’d been driven to the point of nervous breakdown, whereas she was stronger than ever. Finally, a judgment was granted and Miral received a divorce in 2007.
“When I returned to Syria,” recalls Miral, “I owned nothing in the world besides the old, broken sign for my beauty salon. The place itself was shuttered; I’d sold everything inside it before travelling. But I vowed to continue working, and I outfitted a whole new shop, working until I could afford to open another place.”
Miral, along with a close friend and a number of young men and women who felt alienated from their social surroundings, founded the Human Association in 2011. They worked with the goal of making their difference from the surrounding Homsi society visible, attempting to change things through promoting human values, not based on sect, religion, or other forms of identity-based belonging. They also sought to promote gender equality, innovation and difference. They were forced to disband when the Syrian crisis began as they were unable to continue their work. Miral still works with the hope of reviving the Human Association, considering this her mission in life.
“I don’t believe in any dogma, in any religion, political party or sect,” says Miral. “I believe that humanism is the one doctrine shared among all. I was able to rid myself of all these social complexes, and I experienced so many things, from marriage to divorce to work. I tried to do everything I couldn’t do when I was younger, and I aim to go back to school and continue my education one of these days.”