There are many edible palm fruits and the most widely found and favoured are dates. Dates were cultivated in ancient lands, from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt, possibly as early as 6000 B.C. Then, as now, dates were a staple for the natives of those dry regions. Much later, Arabs spread dates around northern Africa which are classified according to their fleshiness:
- Soft dates (Barhee, Halawy, Khadrawy, Medjool)
- Semidry dates (Dayri, Deglet Noor, Zahidi)
- Dry dates (Thoory)
Dates are rich in natural fibres and therefore, help against many ailments. They also surpass other fruits in the sheer variety of their constituents. They are the most wholesome food among fruits because of their hot and moist substance. Eating dates in the morning on an empty stomach kills intestinal worms and other parasites, for dates have an antidotal potency, which inhibits their growth.
Dates were the food that Allah (swt) provided for Maryam (as) when she felt labour pains, and after she gave birth to Isa (as) under the palm tree. The great worth of dates is also indicated in a famous and beautiful passage of the Quran, (Maryam, 25:6): “Shake the trunk of the palm tree, and it will drop ripe dates on you, so eat, drink, and comfort your eyes with what Allah gave you.”
Experiments have also shown that dates contain some stimulants, which strengthen the muscles of the uterus in the last months of pregnancy. This helps the dilation of the uterus at the time of delivery and reduces post-natal bleeding. Dieticians consider dates the best food for breast-feeding mothers. This is because they contain elements that assist in alleviating depression and enrich the breast milk with the nutrients needed to make the child healthy and resistant to disease.
Regarding the Messenger of Allah (sa) breaking his fast with fresh dates, dried dates, or even water, there is, of course, a subtle reason. Since dates, particularly if they are moist, travel faster to the liver and are converted more quickly than other nutrients, the liver accepts their contents more readily and hastens their distribution to the rest of the body, which is thirsting for energy. Another factor making dates the ideal food is their digestibility. Within half an hour of eating them, the tired body regains new vigour. The reason for this is that low blood sugar is the main cause of hunger, not an empty stomach as is often assumed. When the body absorbs the nutritional essence of a few dates the sensation of hunger is abated. It would seem that taking dates after fasting helps one avoid overeating.
Aisha (rta) used to prescribe dates to those suffering with giddiness. It is now well known that low blood sugar and low blood pressure are among the causes of giddiness. She was also reported to have used dates combined with cucumber to treat her over-slim condition. She said: “They fed me with every type of food to gain weight, yet I did not put on any. Then they added cucumber and fresh date to my diet and that did it.”
As dates are rich in calcium, they contribute to healthy bones. For this reason it is recommended that children and older adults, especially women, eat plenty of dates to strengthen their bones. Dates are also important in maintaining good vision and are effective in guarding against night-blindness. In the early years of Islam, dates were served as food for Muslim soldiers as they stimulate muscles and give energy for physical exercise. They also help heal stomach ulcers. Modern medicine has shown that eating dates prevents abdominal cancer.
There are said to be at least eight hundred uses of the date. It is used as a fresh or a dry fruit with excellent storage properties, and is commonly used in the confectionery trade. One possible industry that is currently unexploited is the use of dates for crude sugar.
People often ask: “Do all these dates really taste different?” The answer is a resounding: “Yes!” Each variety of date not only has its own distinctive taste, but also its own distinctive texture, sweetness and size. When properly stored, dates keep exceedingly well. Stored in airtight containers and kept in the refrigerator, dates will stay moist and delicious for as long as 30 days. Dates can also be kept frozen for up to a year with no loss of taste or quality.
A serving of five or six average dates contain about 20 calories each and are a good source of fibre, potassium, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, without the sodium or fat found in other snacks. A serving of dates helps fulfil the “2 to 4 servings of fruit and vegetables a day” guideline of the USDA’s “Food Pyramid”.
A serving of dates provides approximately 14% of the USDA Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of fibre, which has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Eating dates and drinking water is an ideal, natural way to replenish the body’s need for potassium. One serving of dates contains about 240 milligrams of potassium, or 7% of the RDA, of this essential nutrient.
Vitamins and Minerals
Dates contain a variety of B-complex vitamins. They contain thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 and pantothenic acid. Dates also contain 2.2% protein, vitamin A, vitamins B1, B2 ad nicotinic acid (which fights against Pellagra); they also have traces of minerals needed for the body such as potassium, sodium, calcium, iron, manganese and copper.
A serving of dates contains about 31 grams of carbohydrates, making them a powerhouse of energy. The carbohydrates found in dates, include about 3 grams of dietary fibre and about 3 grams of naturally occurring sugars, such as sucrose, fructose, and glucose. Dates have about 1430 calories per pound and for that reason are not recommended for anyone on a diet.
They are variously classified as food, drink, fruits, sweets, nutrients, and medicine. Cured dates are called ‘Ajwah’ in Arabic. Aisha (rta) related the saying of Allah’s Messenger (sa), “Ajwah date is an excellent remedy.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Dates are also among the fruits of Paradise, as noted in the Hadeeth: “Ajwah is from Paradise and contains an antidote against poison.” (At-Tirmidhi)
The Prophet (sa) said: “He who eats seven Ajwah dates (the dates which he sow himself) every morning, will not be affected by poison or magic on the day he eats them.” (Bukhari)
Dates and date palms have been mentioned in the Holy Quran 20 times, thus showing their importance. The Prophet (sa) likened a good Muslim to the date palm, saying: “Among trees, there is a tree like a Muslim. Its leaves do not fall.” (Bukhari)
It is also a custom among Muslim parents to put a piece of well-chewed date (or other available sweet fruit) in the mouth of a newborn baby. An interesting scientific medical study, published in the British Medical Journal (No. 6993, 10 June 1995), proved the benefit of giving a new-born child sugar to reduce the feeling of pain during procedures, like heel pricking for a blood sample, or circumcision. This reduced the crying time, compared to babies who got water. Also, their heart rate returned to normal more quickly.
Finally, we hope that Muslim medical scientists and researchers will take this new discovery on board; and that many more Islamic ideas and practices needing investigative research and scientific study will get the attention they deserve, Insha’Allah.