Sabiha Çimen, a Turkish photographer and a Muslim, spent three intensive years studying and memorizing the Qu’ran in a religious school in Istanbul as a teenager. The word for someone who has memorized all 6,238 verses of the Qu’ran is “Hafiz,” which she also took as the title of her recently published light-hearted and beautiful book (Red Hook Editions, 2021).
A resident of Istanbul and New York, Çimen visited religious schools for girls throughout Turkey, like the one she attended, from 2017 to 2021, photographing vignettes of daily life, much like the ones she had participated in when she was the same age as the young girls she photographed. More than documenting what she saw, she visually recreated her own emotional experiences: the fun, the mischief, the amusement – in essence, the behavior of young girls everywhere.
Despite Çimen’s strict religious upbringing, her pictures show a side of Muslim life not featured in many depictions of Muslim people in the West. Her gentle, heartwarming photographs correct the dominant narrative of Muslim women dressed in black and oppressed by men. They reveal that abiding by traditional Muslim faith and being a contemporary woman are not necessarily a contradiction.