Total Recall: Hafiz Schools in Maxim Babenko’s Project

Photographer Maxim Babenko travelled to Grozny and Goudermes to find out about the lifestyle of children who are going to learn the Koran by heart.

Maxim Babenko, 26

Photographer at BrandPrint. Paris photography school Speos graduate. Publishes with Newsweek, The Washington Post, National Geographic. Finalist in Magnum Photos “30 under 30” contest for young documentary photographers.

Since 2010 five hafiz schools opened in Chechnya, where young Chechens learn the Koran by heart and receive both religious and patriotic education. “A hafiz stands so high in Allah’s eyes that he is allowed to save up to ten relatives from the flames of Hell,” Chechen muftis say.

A hafiz is not just a person with a good memory. “To have learnt surahs and ayats by heart does not make one a hafiz. A hafiz is able to explain it, he constantly perfects his knowledge and shares it. To be a hafiz is to have a lifestyle where the believer totally commits himself to serve the Allah and gives up everything mundane,” Ibraghim, a former imam at a mosque in Chechnya, is quoted as saying in an interview for the Caucasian Centre online publication.

Popularity of those schools grows each year, every one of the five of them has 100 to 200 pupils.

The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who has four hafiz in his family — his own three children and his nephew Khamzat Kadyrov, graduate and presently headmaster of the first Chechen school of hafiz — is convinced, that the schools will save Chechnya from a possible new war. “Our enemies won’t be able to trick the hafiz for when one has the knowledge, one can’t be fooled by by false slogans or ‘nice’ words. We all remember the time when Chechnya was ridden with terrorists. Having lived through all that horror we now need to bring up our hafiz so that no one will ever again dare to lure the people [of Chechnya] into a whirlpool of chaos and war.”

There are some Chechens, though, who think that the authorities, by focusing so much on the religion, alienate young people from it. “The majority of mufti in the republic are former Ichkerians,” the republic citizen, Zaindi S., admits. “It was just recently that those people were calling on us to a jihad against Russia, and today they are saying the completely opposite things. At present they have no authority. The mosques and hafiz schools by themselves are not enough for a religious revival.”

However, popularity of those schools grows each year, every one of the five of them has 100 to 200 pupils. Only boys under 10 years of age, through a careful selection, are admitted. Education at a hafiz school lasts for three years.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_01.jpg”, “text”: “A young hafiz is reciting surahs before a prayer.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_02.jpg”, “text”: “Abubakar would like to do the Islam studies in the future – as a student first, then as a teacher.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_03.jpg”, “text”: “Moslem written across the back of a teeshirt. A lot of children wear teeshirts with a print of a the Chechen flag. On leaving school, some of the hafiz enlist in Ramzan Kadyrov’s army to do military service.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_04.jpg”, “text”: “A pupil is resting in his room after classes. All the rooms look the same, the teachers are identical to the pupils.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_05.jpg”, “text”: “The sky over a school in Grozny.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_06.jpg”, “text”: “One of the youngest pupils in the Goudermes school. Many children have difficulty speaking Russian.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_07.jpg”, “text”: “This picture hangs in front of the school’s living quarters.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_08.jpg”, “text”: “The portrait of Akhmat Kadyrov, the first president of the Chechen Republic, is behind a young hafiz.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_09.jpg”, “text”: “Kids who have learned the Koran by heart start revising it.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_10.jpg”, “text”: “On their way to lunch.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_11.jpg”, “text”: “Evening prayer in the sacred month of Ramadan.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_12.jpg”, “text”: “A tablet with quotes from the Koran on a mosque wall.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_13.jpg”, “text”: “A young hafiz by the prayer schedule for the month.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_14.jpg”, “text”: “A note with a prayer to be recited on awakening.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_15.jpg”, “text”: “A class in a Grozny school.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_16.jpg”, “text”: “It is too hot outside so many children watch TV in their spare time.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_17.jpg”, “text”: “Goudermes. Park view from a room. The school is in the proximity of the former residence of the head of Chechnya.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_18.jpg”, “text”: “Physical training class.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_19.jpg”, “text”: “Many hafiz take part in wrestling competitions.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_20.jpg”, “text”: “Changing room after a workout.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/hafiz_21.jpg”, “text”: “Before a football match between Goudermes school pupils.”}

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