Zohreh Sefati was born in Abadan, Iran in 1953, and raised in a religious family. She was the daughter of a pious, kindly man, and her mother was known for her noble personality and for having the entire Qur’an memorized.
Her parent both encouraged her to study the Qur’an and take advanced lessons from the young age of five; she learned many Islamic principles before even attending grammar school. Ms. Sefati studied her high school level subjects at home before attending theology school in 1966.
She was inspired to study Islamic Sciences after learning about the life and scientific achievements of the great female jurist Hajiyeh Seyyedeh Nosrat Beygom Amin Isfahani (Lady Amin). During a pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine of Imam Riza (peace be upon him) in Mashhad, Ms. Sefati realized her dream of attending advanced school would come true. She was informed that a theology school for women had just been established in her town. Sefati took preliminary lessons of jurisprudence, literature, and Islamic Sciences in Abadan. In 1970, she left to attend Qom Theology School to continue her studies.
She was a student of renowned scholars such as Ayatollah Shahidi, Ayatollah Haqqi, Ayatollah Ali Meshkini and Ayatollah Mohammad Hassan Ahmadi-Faqih . These personalities helped shape her into a tremendous thinker and scholar of her own right.
Her Political Activities
Apart from general problems facing female scholars in Qom Theology School, her education coincided with the former Pahlavi regime’s campaign against religion. Ms. Sefati actively participated in Islamic propagation against the Pahlavi regime. She faced many hardships in the course of her anti-Shah activities, and her brother was martyred by that regime. She was also in communication regularly with Islamic thinkers, such as Ayatollah Murtaza Mutahhari, Ayatollah Beheshti and Ayatollah Qoddousi.
Zohreh Sefati achieved the highest jurisprudence degree (Ijtihad), an accomplishment made only by a small number of women. Her Ijtihad degree was approved unanimously by several Maraja’ Taqleed, including Ayatollahs Ali Yari Gharavi-Tabrizi (a student of Ayatollah Naeini), Safi Gulpaygani, Fazel Lankarani, and Mohammad Hassan Ahmadi-Faqih. She has instructed several other renowned female scholars and has been inspiration for many others. Sefati has authored a plethora of books and papers on Islamic jurisprudence.
Many female scholars complain that reaching the degree of Ijtihad is no use for them as long as they cannot be a Marja’ and therefore truly respected as Islamic scholars. Ms. Sefati replied in her works that the responsibilities of a jurist are not only limited to those of a Marja’. She added that female jurists can serve society by helping Muslims interpret Islamic principles as well. Sefati highlighted that there is growing controversy among Islamic scholars with regard to whether women can become Marja’, stating that “a number of renowned Islamic scholars believe Islam does not ban female jurists from growing to be Marja’.”
Zohreh Sefati has also founded schools for women, establishing the Women’s Theology School in Qom in 1970. She has been a force to be reckoned with in her academic and scholarly career, and continues to be this day.