Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A date to cherish

As the warm sun embraces the stately palm tree, it thrives in its blazing rays and gracefully looks down with appreciation at the waters of its beloved Nile. Its life depends on light and water and come evening as the moon rises its green leaves shine and glitter under its soft glow.

So it has been for 50 million years. 

None can be unmoved at the sight of the graceful dignity and elegant majesty of the towering date palm tree.  

It is not only its ornamental beauty, the palm has offered man one of the greatest gifts, its unique fruit, known for its sweetness described as heavenly... the date.

Muslims have a date with the date during the holy month of Ramadan.

The exact origin of the palm date has been lost in history, but what is indisputable is that the cultivation of the fruit goes back 7,000 years. From Ancient Egypt it stretched northeast into the Fertile Crescent — the Euphrates and the Tigris. Whether it spread purposely or accidentally is unknown as it is dioecious, it enjoys self pollination, having male and female plants, and can be easily grown from its seed. One male can pollinate 100 females and it is the female that bears the fruit. Hardy and strong it survives in extreme heat and freezing weather. But it thrives with the heat and water.

Widely cultivated in the Middle East, traders have spread its seeds to many lands. It became prevalent in ancient Greece and Rome; frescoes include a garden scene with palms at the wedding of Alexander the Great. Its fronds or leaves symbolised victory in ancient Roman processions.

There are a million uses for its leaves and trunk.

Spanish Conquistadores introduced it to Mexico and Baja California in 1765. It adorns Southern California, Arizona and Southern Florida.

Egypt remains the leading producer of dates followed by Iraq, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and others, generating 12-19 species of wild date palms, ranging in colour from bright red to bright yellow. The Gaza Strip produces red dates from their Deir Al-Ballah, or Valley of Dates. 

Exclusive to Egypt is the dark red date known as zaghloul, an element of national sentiment after the great nationalist leader, Saad Zaghloul.

Maktoum, Mejdool, Ajwa are some of the favourite varieties. There is even a “lulu” produced by the UAE.

A symbol of prosperity and triumph, it holds great religious significance in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It is mentioned 50 times in the Bible.

A highly nutritious food source it is said that “without the date the expansion of the human race into the hot, barren parts of the old world would have been much more restricted.”

Why are dates traditionally the first food consumed by Muslims to break the Ramadan fast? Because the faithful follow their holy prophet. Why did he choose the lowly date to break his fast?  

Though he did it instinctively, his reasons in the collection of his hadith (sayings) have been verified by modern science. Science proves that there is indeed a cure in dates. Its enhancing benefits have been known for centuries by Ancient Egyptians, Greek physicians and Islamic scholars, who used dates in folk medicine to cure a plethora of ailments ranging from digestive disorders, bronchial problems, blood pressure regulation, liver ailments, tumours and fertility problems.

Modern science discovered that the date is free of cholesterol and sodium; and while its sugar contents alarm some, a date contains only 23 calories and contains Vitamin A, numerous B complex (thiamin and riboflavin), niacin, Vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid necessary for building healthy body tissue and muscle. It contains 13 minerals, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, copper, manganese and potassium essential for proper functioning of the muscles and the nervous system.

Seven dates a day keep the doctor away.

The prophet believed that “he who eats seven dates (ajwa) every morning will not be affected by poison or magic on the day he eats them.” This equals 100 grams and by modern day standards this is the perfect amount of daily vitamins and minerals, containing a sufficient amount of nutrition to eliminate accumulated toxins, or “poison” in the body. 

Another interesting finding shows that a handful of dates is the perfect cure for hangovers. Perhaps intoxication is what is referred to as “magic”.

The prophet was aware of this long before the advent of science.

“A household that has dates does not feel hunger.” Dates satiate and curb hunger pangs.

Dieters take note: dates help in weight management, elevate constipation as they are high in fibre, they are a great nutrient for children and they eliminate hangover.

Dried dates contain the highest concentration of anti-oxidants linked with fighting heart disease and cancer.

When the Holy Virgin Mary was in labour it is said God asked her to shake the palm tree above her and eat the fruit to ease the pain.

Pregnant women take heed. Dates stimulate the uterus to give regulated contractions needed to facilitate birth. Diabetics, do not fear its sweetness, it controls your blood sugar levels.  

The high fibre in dates has a laxative effect purging the colon and intestines. They secrete digestive juices, helping the stomach accept food especially for those who indulge.

What more can you ask of a humble date which continues to nourish mankind?

Do make a date with a date.

It will be a date you will not regret.

“If dates are unavailable, break the fast with water. It is pure!”

Al-Bukhari (810-870 AD) 

Hadith from the Prophet Mohamed

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