2020 Photo Contest, Long-Term Projects, 2nd Prize

Hafız: Guardians of the Qur’an


Sabiha Çimen

11 June, 2017

Şeyma walks through the countryside with her best friends, during a windy summer picnic in Istanbul, Turkey.

Muslims who completely memorize the Qur’an are allowed to use the title ‘Hafız’ before their names. They believe that whoever memorizes the holy book and follows its teachings will be rewarded by Allah and will rise in status in Paradise. The practice dates back to the days when illiteracy was widespread and paper and vellum were prohibitively expensive, so hafızes were seen as guardians of the holy word, keeping it alive for future generations. The Qur’an has 6,236 verses, and committing them to memory is usually achieved by repetition and recitation. In Turkey, thousands of Qur’an schools exist for this purpose and many are attended by girls. Ranging in age from eight to 17 years old, most take three or four years to complete a task that requires discipline, devotion and focus. After graduating, most of these girls marry and have families but still retain the holy text word for word.

 The photographer attended a Qur’an school with her twin sister when they were 12, and so is able to reveal a world unknown to many. Her project follows the daily lives of students at Qur’an schools and shows not only their journey to become hafızes, but also how they retain the dreams and adventurous nature of young women their age, as well as the rule-breaking practices and the fun of school life when they are not studying.

About the photographer

Sabiha Çimen

Sabiha Çimen was born in Istanbul, Turkey in 1986. She is a self-taught photographer, focusing on Islamic culture, portraiture and still life.  Çimen graduated from Istan...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
Focal length
80mm Lens
500C/M Hasselblad

This image is collected in