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Community Blog Ramadan Reflections: Celene Ibrahim

By Celene Ibrahim

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is believed to be the month in which the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

Warning: This reflection deals somewhat graphically with death and dying.

From the window-seat of the plane, I have a stunning view of the pinkened sky as the sun dips into the horizon, ushering out the month of Sha’ban and giving way to the first blessed night of Ramadan. Next to me, I later learn, dozes a technician who travels the world from the Philippines to St. Lucius ensuring that “retorts” for humans and pets are in proper working condition. “Retorts”—I had to ask—are the brick, concrete, metal, and gas ovens for cremation. These retorts can reduce a human to bone fragments odorlessly in about an hour, and, like most other things, can be purchased in economy or luxury models. An operator then sweeps the bone fragments from the chamber into a shoot where they fall into a catch box for further processing—grinding, to be specific. Thus it is, thanks to a providential seating arrangement, that I pass into Ramadan, a month designed for Muslims to try their hardest to escape from the fire, contemplating human impermanence: What value will remain from my life when my material existence is but decomposing bone? The opening words of Sūrat al-Mulk come to mind as I gaze out the plane window…

Blessed is the One in whose possession is dominion, and Who is over all things powerful-



Who created death and life to try you as to which of you is most beautiful in deed, Who is the Mighty, the Forgiving–



Who created seven heavens in strata; you see in the creation of the Most Beneficent no incongruity. So behold again; do you see any rifts?



Then return the gaze again, and your gaze will return to you humbled and fatigued.

Dr. Celene Ibrahim is scholar of religious studies with a focus on Qur’anic studies, Islamic social and intellectual history, and applied ethics. She is the author of the monograph Women and Gender in the Qur’an published by Oxford University Press (2020). The book won the Association of Middle East Women’s Studies Book Award (2021) and was a featured title for Women’s History Month by the American Academy of Religion (2022). She is the author of Islam and Monotheism (2022), published in the Elements series by Cambridge University Press. She is also a member of the Miller Center for Interreligious Learning & Leadership of Hebrew College‘s Advisory Council.

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