Quranic schools for girls spread in Turkey, where they receive their education away from their families in Quranic boarding schools, and they begin to learn, recite and memorize the Holy Quran Surahs, and aspire to become “memorizers”.
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“This exercise requires discipline, dedication and focus,” says Sabiha Simin, who managed to enter this special world and prepared a photo report that won the World Press Photo Award in 2020.
She took pictures of future “memorizers” of the Qur’an in their spare time. Photographers cannot easily access the boarding schools visited by this journalist in 5 cities in Anatolia, but 35-year-old Sabiha Simin managed to do so, according to the writer.
Overflow of feelings during the final exam
The writer quoted Sabiha Simin – originally from Istanbul – as saying that when she was 12 years old, she studied 3 years in a Quran school with her twin sister, “It’s a narrow circle, I know her well, because my older sisters also memorize the Quran.”
By highlighting the students’ experience, the photographer hopes to help raise awareness of Islamic culture, “which is often misunderstood in Western countries.”
Sabiha Simin admits that this work is somewhat a reflection of her autobiography. Once she became a photographer, after a stint at Bilgi University in Istanbul where she studied international trade and finance, she wanted to return to the experience that had affected her. She recalls the feelings she had in the final exam, when the examinees asked the students to recite a randomly selected chapter of the Qur’an.
According to Sabiha Simin, “Everything is based on repetition. It is primarily about memorizing the word, while understanding the meaning comes after years of study. Since the Qur’an is the guide to life, most of the students who memorize it later learn Arabic to understand its meaning.” .
After studying at the Quranic boarding school, Sabiha Simin headed to Jordan to learn the Arabic language.
Strengthening children’s faith
The writer indicated that Sabiha Simin devoted most of her photographic research to Quranic women’s schools, and won the World Press Photo Prize in 2020.
These schools have spread over the past 20 years in Turkey at the initiative of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is keen to raise a “pious generation”. He also studied in a school for imams and preachers, and his parents wanted him to be a memorizer of the Qur’an.
The Turkish president is constantly trying to perpetuate his cultural revolution, ie a pious way of life, and the government supports this project.
In 2002, the country counted 1,699 Quranic schools, but in 2020, this number has become 18,675. According to the Directorate of Religious Affairs, about 15,000 Turkish students graduate from Quranic schools annually.
Even when they are settled in France or Germany, future Conservative parents value this upbringing, and see it as ideal for strengthening their children’s faith and ensuring respect for traditions.
On the other hand, memorizing the Qur’an confers a form of appreciation because once the title of Hafiz is won it can be attached to the name that calls for respect.
“There are many things you cannot do in front of Hafez, such as raising your voice, or uttering insults,” recalls Sabiha Simin, as well as the reward of the Hafez in the Hereafter.