By Abdul Rashid Agwan
Dates make a staple item of Iftar during the entire month of Ramadhan. It is so much so in India.
It is dates which physically unite the entire Muslim community during the holy month, besides its spirituality. Members of the Muslim community right from Auckland in the east to Hawaii in the west feel connected during Ramadhan, apart from fasting, through the dates when they break the fast in the evening and eat dates along with their locally used foods. It seems that the believers are united in observing the fast and are also in sync while breaking it every day in the month. They are united in suffering and are also one-whole while enjoying a fruit of life.
Date palm is one of the earliest cultivated crops and an ancient icon of the Middle East, where the thick-trunked date palm is a symbol of hospitality, energy and peace. Where there is a date palm in a distant arid landscape, it signals that there is an oasis.
Dates are mentioned in a number of verses of the Quran and also in the Bible and ancient Sumerian and Assyrian texts. A number of Hadith indicate that the Prophet Mohammad used to break the fast with dates and water, and that is why it has become a fervent tradition to end a fasting day while eating the date first.
The scientific name of date-palm is Phoenix dactylifera. It is also referred to as Nakhl in Arabic, while the fruit of the date palm is called Tamr in many Arab and African countries. Date palms can survive up to 150 years.
The fruit is called by various local names in the Muslim world such as Balah in Arabic, Khajoor in Urdu,Hurmah in Turkish or Buah Kurma in Indonesian languages. Strangely enough, although dates are considered fruits of the date palm but date palm itself belongs to the grass family and should be taken as grains. As a nutrition they have more in common with grains than with most fruits.
There are three basic types of dates: soft (including barhi, halawi, khadrawi and medjool), semi-dry (like deglet noor and zahidi), and dry (like thoori), but thousands of date varieties are available around the world. Their flavors range from rich molasses to light butterscotch to honey.
Muslim communities use dates produced in many countries such as the red-brown Zaghloul from Egypt, golden Barhis from Iraq, orange-brown Sair dates from Iran. However, the purple-black Ajwa dates from Medina are most cherished ones and considered the finest of all.
In 2001 the top five date producing countries were Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iraq, accounting for about 69% of total production. Of the 500 000 tonnes exported, 225 000 tonnes were imported by India, revealing that India is the largest consumer of dates and date products.
Dates are prevalent for Iftar as they provide a quick boost of energy for the eating to come, apart from their traditional significance.
Experts have counted the following 6 health benefits of eating dates after fasting: 1. Dates are easy to digest so they don’t exhaust the fasting person stomach. 2. Dates decrease the great hunger feeling of the fasting person and so he doesn’t rush into excessive food eating which causes digestion disorders. 3. Dates prepare the stomach to receive the food after being inactive throughout the day with activating the release of digestive secretions and juices. 4. Dates are very rich with sugary energy and so the body is supplied with the most important nutrients which is sugar that is irreplaceable as a nutrient for the brain cells and nerves. 5. Dates protect the fasting person from having constipation as a result of changing meals times or as a result of having low fiber amounts in meals. 6. The alkaline salts in dates adjust the acidity of blood which result from excessiveness eating of meat and carbohydrates which causes a lot of hereditary diseases as diabetes, gout, renal stones, gall bladder inflammations, high blood pressure and hemorrhoids.
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. Due to date’s high sugar contents, it is often called as “nature’s candy.”
Apart from many other medicinal benefits of dates, the fruit or the sweet grain has great advantage in controlling blood pressure. Magnesium helps in regulating blood pressure and dates are full of it. Moreover, potassium is another mineral in dates that has several functions within the body, aiding with the proper workings of the heart and helping to reduce blood pressure. 100 grams of the fruit contains 696 milligrams of Potassium and 54 milligrams of Magnesium and found to be one of the best natural sources of these minerals for human health.
The date palm has a lot of medicinal uses which includes cold, fever, cystitis, edema, thore throat, bronchial catarrh, liver cancer, low sperm count and abdominal trouble to mention a few.
Besides Ramadhan, Muslims also traditionally use dates as the first feed of a new born baby and during marriage ceremonies. 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. Dates are the best item for this.
It is reported, “Dates contain certain stimulants which strengthen the muscles of the uterus in the last few months of pregnancy.” Moreover, dates 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.
Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated: 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)