The date palm, which is most commonly unbranched, can grow up to 30 meters. Its 4-5 meter long leaves surround the trunk in a spiral pattern. Branched forms of the date palm also occur (See Surah 13 above).
Date palms produce between five and ten bunches of dates per tree. A single large bunch may contain more than a thousand dates, and can weigh between 6 to 8 kg. They begin to bear fruit at 3 to 5 years, and reach full production after 10-12 years. Date palms can survive up to 150 years.
Date fruits vary in size, shape and colour. This drupe fruit is characterised by its thin skin, succulent, soft flesh and hard stone or seed in the middle. Unripe dates are green in colour, maturing to yellow, then reddish-brown when fully ripe. Each of these states (green to ripe) has been given a particular name in Arabic.
The tree is grown in a nearly rainless belt in the Sahara, as well as in the Middle East in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and Iraq. The variety of dates that are produced amount to 600 according to a report by the Agronomy and Range Science Management Department at the University of California. In three date-producing countries, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, there is reported to be about 1000 varieties of dates, many of which experience neglect and face possible extinction as efforts are concentrated on prized varieties (Campbell).
The date market in the noble city of Madinah, the Souq al-Tumour, sells about 150 varieties, differing in color, shape, taste and price!
The date palm has a range of uses. High-energy date fruits have been placed high on the diets of the health conscious. Though the fruit still has untapped potential in the food industry, it also lends itself to countless other uses.
Handicrafts, such as ropes and mats can be woven from the branches of the tree, while the bark is very useful as a building material. In early descriptions of the Prophet Muhammad’s (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) mosque in Madinah, historians state that the leaves of the date palm were used as a roof covering.
Even the date stone is used as cattle feed, once it has been soaked and powdered. The juice from the date palm is an ingredient in baking and cooking.
Placed in the mouths of newborn babies, eaten at wedding celebrations and at the beginning and end of each day of fasting in Ramadan – dates are said to have great medicinal value. A medical study cited in the British Medical Journal (Haouari et al.) found that placing a sugary substance in the mouth of a baby reduces pain sensation and heart rate. The sunnah (Prophetic tradition) of putting chewed dates or honey into the mouths of newborn babies at the name-giving ceremony on the 7th day after the child’s birth therefore carries great virtue and benefit.
According to a study by Al-Shahib and Marshall, in many ways, “dates may be considered as an almost ideal food, providing a wide range of essential nutrients and potential health benefits.” The sugar content of ripe dates is about 80%; the remainder consists of protein, fat and mineral products including copper, sulfur, iron, magnesium and fluoric acid. Dates are high in fiber and an excellent source of potassium.
World production of dates has almost tripled, while export has increased by 1.71% in the last 40 years indicating an increase in the demand for this nutritious fruit.
Dates are also reputed to be useful in treating respiratory disorders, as well as a salve and a heart stimulant. It is also believed to be of benefit to pregnant women. In Surah Maryam, Allah provided Maryam (peace be upon her), the mother of Prophet ‘Eesa (peace be upon him), with dates when she was experiencing discomfort and pain during the final stages of her pregnancy.
And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm- tree It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee.
(Surah Maryam: 25)
In an article discussing the benefits of dates, Omar-Muhammad (2003) states that studies have shown that “dates contain certain stimulants which strengthen the muscles of the uterus in the last few months of pregnancy.” This would then assist in the dilation of the uterus at the time of delivery. Dates are also recommended for women in the post-partum period and lactating due to its value as a nutritious, high-energy food.
Narrated by Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him): The Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “There is a tree among the trees which is similar to a Muslim (in goodness), and that is the date palm tree.” (Bukhari, Vol.7 (65): 359)
The value of the date palm is still being understood. As an old Arab saying goes: The uses of the date palm are as many as the number of days in the year. The date palm is one of the many bounties that have been placed on this earth for us to benefit from. Next time we will look at az-Zaytoon, the olive, also discussed in the book, Plants of the Qur’an.
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