For this project, Çimen spent four years photographing at five different Quran schools in Turkey. Although some of these schools also offer secular lessons, the girls – who are between eight and nineteen years-old – mainly spend their time memorising the Quran. This tradition originates from the early days of Islam and is considered to be an important and honourable act of faith. Once they are able to recite the Quran, the students are given the title of hafiz and, according to Islam, will be rewarded by Allah in paradise. With her Hasselblad camera, Çimen has managed to capture a glimpse of a world that outsiders are usually forbidden to see. Because she attended a Quran school herself, she was able to get access and gain the trust of the girls. With Hafiz, Çimen aims to give us an insight into the lives of these young women. She offers them an opportunity to show their own identity and, in a nuanced way, wants to shed light on this closed community within Turkish society.
Devotion and fun
The photo series reflects on the discipline needed to become a hafiz and shows the different stages of youth and adolescence which revolve around making friends, breaking the rules, and the struggle of finding your own identity. Çimen confronts us with moments of friendship, fun and vulnerability. The girls can be seen while visiting a fun fair, larking about, jointly hanging around in the schoolyard, or gazing dreamily into space. Çimen has captured the intimate bond the students have with each other and managed to portray them as adventurous and powerful young women.
Sabiha Çimen (1986, Turkey) is a self-taught photographer who in her work focuses on women, Islamic culture, portraits, and still life. Çimen became a Magnum Nominee Member in 2020 and is now working as an associate photographer within the agency. Her work has appeared in publications like The New York Times Magazine, Le Monde, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. During the Paris Photo Fair 2022, Çimen received the First Photobook Award for her debut photo book Hafiz.