Turkish Sabiha Simin filmed four years in Quran memorization schools: “This is their story, but it is also mine.”

“I have fond memories of that time. With hundreds of girls at school, together all day, having fun, doing sneaky things. My twin sister and I were very rebellious, and we would run away, wear punk clothes, paint our cheeks and hands. We got warnings regularly and were expelled from school in Sometimes. Punishment: a week at home. You might think: Hooray, don’t study, I’m finally watching TV again. But we,” says Sabiha Simin over the phone from Istanbul, “we found it boring at home, we missed our girlfriends and the commotion.”

When Turkish photographer Sabiha Simin was 12 years old, her parents sent her to the Turkish Quranic School for Girls in Istanbul. The students, between the ages of eight and seventeen, memorize the verses of the Qur’an there for three or four years, and thus become HafezGuardians of Islam. More than twenty years later, in 2017, Jimin (36) decided to return to the Koran School to record the lives of the girls – photos of which can now be seen at the Kunsthalle in Rotterdam.

Girls on a roller coaster in Istanbul.
Photo by Sabiha Simen/Magnum Pictures
A female student waits outside the school building for her father to pick her up.
Photo by Sabiha Simen/Magnum Pictures
Images from “Hafez” by Sabiha Simin
Photo by Sabiha Simen/Magnum Pictures

For four years, Jimin photographed girls in five Quranic schools in different cities in Turkey with her Hasselblad camera, capturing images of a world usually hidden from the outside world. She won several awards with the project and was accepted as an aspiring member of Magnum Photography Agency in 2020. The book Hafez which I released in 2021 and was awarded the Paris Photo-Aperture First PhotoBook.

Glamor pastel

In Çimen’s photos, we mainly see a lot of cheerful pastel colors: bright greens, soft yellows, and pinks. Girls have fun on roller coasters, try out a pink smoke bomb, play hopscotch in the schoolyard or just run around bored. “That’s the atmosphere as I remember my time there. We were serious students of the Qur’an but at the same time we were young. We were rebellious, discovering our identity. In that sense, you will Hafez It can also be considered a photographic autobiography. This is their story, but it’s also mine. If you’re part of a community as a photographer, you can get very close.”

Basra, 8 years old, is the youngest student in the Qur’an school.Photo by Sabiha Simen/Magnum Pictures

Simin gained access to the schools through her network of ex-students: women who had simultaneously become teachers or principals of a Koranic school. “They opened the doors to me because they considered it an important and valuable project. For a few years I was able to work very freely, without formal permission from the board of directors.

“Until the men on the board heard what I was doing. Then it became more difficult. While the girls’ parents gave permission, as well as the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the board was concerned that I would portray Koranic schools in a negative light. I said, ‘But look at the pictures, I don’t Hurt anyone.” I come from this society myself, I myself am religious, this is my story in this culture. I managed to convince them, but I cannot deny that there is still a struggle in Turkey to tell your story as a woman.”

“I wear a hijab and I don’t see myself represented in the media”

controversy

to Hafez Simin wants to show a different image of veiled women and girls, and says, “I wear a veil and don’t see myself represented in the media: highly educated, with a profession, and fully able to stand up for myself. Veiled women and girls are often portrayed in a certain way. Namely, Not always positive. Often there is something about those pictures. Trouble! Controversy!

“Sometimes I find that very stressful. These girls are so much more than they carry on their heads. Like all other girls in the world, they have their desires and dreams, their quirks, and their uniqueness. Through my photos I want to show their strength. How special they are and how connected they are at the same time.”

Pupils enjoying the snow during recess.
Photo by Sabiha Simen/Magnum Pictures
Girls play in the school yard.
Photo by Sabiha Simen/Magnum Pictures
Images from “Hafez” by Sabiha Simin
Photo by Sabiha Simen/Magnum Pictures

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