by Nader Nasr
Narrated by Ibn “Umar: The Prophet (Peace and Blessings be upon him) said, “Amongst the trees, there is a tree, the leaves of which do not fall and is like a Muslim. Tell me the name of that tree.” Everybody started thinking about the trees of the desert areas. And I thought of the date-palm tree but felt too shy to answer. The others then asked, “What is that tree, O Allah”s Apostle?” He replied, “It is the date-palm tree.” ? (Bukhari, 58)
In early Islamic history it was customary for the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to place a chewed date in the mouth of a newborn baby, and the baby would feel soothed and cease to cry. In Surah Mariam, in the Holy Qur”an, an anecdote is told of how Mary (PBUH), in her pain of childbirth, was driven to a palm tree where she was commanded by a voice to shake its trunk as fresh, ripe dates would fall down for her to eat. During Ramadan, Muslims all over the world tend to break their fast with dates, just as the Prophet (PBUH) did.
The date palm and the date Of all the fruits which exist today, none has been heavily emphasized, by the Qur”an or the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH), more than the date. The Qur”an mentions the date palm at least 20 times. Why? What is the significance of this fruit? It is wrinkled, dry, no larger than an iPod Shuffle, and commonly mistaken for a prune. Yet, other than pomegranates, olives, and figs, it has been one of the most important fruits and staples for not just Muslims, but civilizations dating as far back as Ancient Egypt. In fact, there is an old Arab saying which says, There are more uses from the date palms, than there are days in a year.? It is time to put this saying to the test and discover the role of the date in Islam.
The date palm is believed to have originated around the Persian Gulf and was very abundant between the Nile and Euphrates rivers. Around 4,000 B.C., its cultivation was widespread in the Middle East and North Africa, as Arab nomads would grow date palms wherever they traveled. It eventually was introduced in Spain, and soon after, it was grown in many European regions including the French Riviera, southern Italy, and Greece. However, the date palm did not find too much success in such regions due to specific conditions”long, hot growing season, low humidity, absence of summer rain, and soil types with low salt levels and free draining sands”needed for it to grow. Today, the date palm flourishes in such countries like Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Arabia, and Iran. Iraq leads all countries, as the number one producer of dates, with 22 million date palms producing over 600,000 tons of dates annually.
One region of the world, where the date palm has found success in is Southern California, specifically, the Coachella Valley. Imported from Iraq and Egypt in 1890 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Coachella Valley is responsible for 95 percent of the nation”s date crop. In fact, it is celebrated in the annual Indio Date Festival near Riverside. Not only has the fruit made its way to the United States, but the culture behind it has found its way here too. Examples include the naming of towns after Arabic cities like Mecca and Baghdad. The Indio Date Festival hosts events in which they perform plays on the Arabian Nights. However, according to Jonathan Friedlander, Assistant Director in Near Eastern Studies at UCLA, the incorporation of the Arabic? culture in such places is merely meant to sell. The annual Indio Date Festival is only a form of advertisement that utilizes Arabic? culture to sell and promote the date fruit.
The date fruit has for centuries been praised for its sweet taste, but just as the Arab saying claims, it has close to 400 different uses, if not more. Structurally, the branches of the date palm have served as a source of shade amidst the blazing, hot desert sun. During the time of the Prophet (PBUH), date palms were crucial in the growth of early Muslim communities. Its leafstalks were used by many scribes to record the chapters and verses of the Qur”an. Early mosques were built using palm fronds woven together and the pillars of the mosques were made from the trunks of palm trees.
Besides the structural uses, the date fruit has had many culinary and medicinal uses that help explain many of the verses of the Qur”an and Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Dates are an excellent source of iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, and phosphorous. They possess rich natural fibers and vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, biotin, folic and ascorbic acid. Today, they are used to make syrups, jams, ice creams, and sodas. They are high-energy fruits that are recommended for the health conscious. Dates are also easily digested. This explains why the Prophet (PBUH) would break his fast with them. Hunger is caused by a shortage of sugar in the blood, and not by an empty stomach (as usually assumed). Dates help elevate blood sugar levels as soon as they are consumed, instantly satisfying hunger.
Some of the medicinal uses of dates include being an excellent muscle stimulant. Early Muslims who would engage in battle used to consume them as a source of energy, and would survive for days on just dates and water. Dates can also reduce pain sensation and heart rate, which is why the Prophet (PBUH) would place chewed dates in a newborn”s mouth. Any pain the child feels after birth ceases, and the baby is able to calm down almost instantaneously. Pregnant women are encouraged to eat dates during pregnancy because experiments have shown that the muscles of the uterus are stimulated in the last months of pregnancy. This allows for dilation on the time of delivery and a reduction in bleeding”explaining the anecdote in Surah Mariam. Dates are also used in the treatment of bronchitis, tumors, hemorrhoids, poisonous bites, night blindness, skin allergies, anxiety, and depression. The American Cancer Society recommends that a person consume 20-35 grams of dietary fiber a day, and according to Family Nutrition Online, dates are excellent sources of dietary fiber with one date containing 3 grams.
And in the earth are neighboring tracts, and gardens of vines and green crops…yet some of them We make more excellent than others to eat. Verily! In these things there are signs for the people who understand? (Holy Qur”an 13:3). Allah (SWT) has created for the world an eclectic selection of plants, yet He chose a few to be more excellent than the others. The date palm is one example of these plants, which truly has more uses than there are days in a year.? It is one of the many blessings Allah (SWT) has bestowed for Muslims, and it is a tree we should always respect and protect for the sake of Allah. Indeed, Muslims are like the date palm, for we live in the toughest conditions and always find a way to survive, and better yet, a way to assist the world. ¢