Wafaa Mohamad was born in Saraqeb in the countryside of Idlib, a city famous for its diverse agricultural crops such as grains, olives and cotton. It is also characterized by its special geographical location between the Aleppo-Damascus highway and the Aleppo-Latakia highway.
Wafaa was raised by a poor family of four girls, one boy, a sick mother, and a blind unemployed father. Due to these difficult circumstances, she was self-reliant from childhood.
She went to elementary and middle school in Saraqeb and was among the top students. She loved science, but her financial conditions forced her to choose the literary stream in secondary school. “Most people in Saraqeb loved and promoted education and considered it important, especially after 2000. Traditionally, girls were not married before graduating from university so the proportion of female university graduates in the city reached more than 90%,” says Wafaa.
After finishing high school, Wafaa went to Aleppo to study law. This was her first time living outside Saraqeb, which she had left only to visit Idlib city, about 20 km away.
Wafaa wanted to study Islamic law, but couldn’t because the Faculty of Islamic Law was in Damascus. So, she ended up studying law at the University of Aleppo since she believed it was the closest major to Islamic Law. However, she later found out that there were only a few courses that were common between the two majors, mainly those relating to the personal status law.
Before and during attending university, Wafaa worked as a nurse, secretary and physician’s assistant, since she and her brothers had to provide for the family. She graduated from university but did not want to work in the field of law for several reasons, one of which was that her job as a nurse was a humanitarian one and she had become used to it, despite it being difficult sometimes. Moreover, she was never interested in practicing law because of society's negative perception of lawyers as shrewd and deceitful liars. In addition, women faced many difficulties while working in courts and standing before male judges; she disliked this and felt she wasn’t capable of it due to lack of skills or courage.
Wafaa was also involved in the cultivation of the family’s land, which was about two hectares in size. They cultivated in the land with their own hands because they couldn’t afford to hire workers to do it for them. “At harvest time, the people of the same area used to share the rent of one harvesting machine, which would be moved to another area after they had finished harvesting. When the harvest season was over, some Bedouins, called al-Ghannameh, would come to the harvest areas, build “houses of hair”, and herd sheep until all the straw and hay in the harvested land had run out. Then, they would move to another area,” she says.
In Saraqeb, men were usually responsible for agricultural work and harvesting, unlike in other neighboring farming communities that depended on women for this type of work; this was especially that case for poor families who could not afford to hire workers.
“Saraqeb was not countryside in the literal sense of the word. Rather, it was a town with a rural character, bustling with industrial, commercial and agricultural activity. It was considered the capital of the countryside and was more visited by tourists than Idlib city. They usually came from the countryside of Idlib, Homs, Aleppo and Hama, attracted by Saraqeb’s famous market and the Sunday Bazaar, which lasted from 6 am until dark and contained all types of products and goods.”
"As for women in Saraqeb, they were not deprived of their rights and enjoyed full freedom,” she adds. “They were not forced to get married, nor were they prohibited from studying or working, especially after people became more aware of freedoms and the true principals of religion, and after sheikhs started calling for respect for women’s rights and freedom.”