By Danish Ahmad Khan
The holy month of Ramadan is a time of restraint, reflection and renewal. Muslims around the world utilize this month in striving to better themselves by every possible means – guarding their tongues, putting in long hours of worship, exercising patience, opening up their coffers to charitable causes. Besides, when it comes to consuming food during Ramadan, particularly while breaking fast, Muslims try to follow the tradition of Prophet Muhammad.
Come Ramadan, sale of dates all over the world increases. Muslims can be seen thronging to the marketplace to buy them along with other eatables. In fact, Dates hold a special place in Islam. According to Hadith, Prophet Muhammad used to break his fast with fresh dates. If fresh dates weren't available then he would break the fast with dried dates or even with sips of water if dried dates too weren't available before praying. Hence, following the tradition of the Prophet Muslims break the fast by consuming dates and water thus trying to enhance their spiritual and physical well-being as well.
Breaking fast with dates has its own benefits. Muslim scholar Imam Ibn Qayyim Al Jauziyah writes in his book 'Healing With the Medicine of the Prophet', "Breaking fast with dates is a wise decision, because fasting empties the stomach of food. Thus the liver would not find any sufficient energy that it could transfer to the various organs. Sweets are the fastest foods to reach the liver, when one eats ripe dates the liver accepts it, benefits from it and then transfers the benefit to the rest of the organs of the body. After this process the body is ready to accept and digest additional food."
In fact, one of the many physical benefits of breaking the fast with dates is that the body benefits from the date's high level of natural sugars. Sugars travel most quickly to the liver, where they are converted into energy more quickly than any other nutrient. When breaking their fast, Muslims have an immediate need for this energy, particularly to perform their Maghrib (sunset) prayers, and afterwards to consume the sumptuous iftar meal. When a person eats, the body uses energy to digest the food. Eating large quantities of food immediately after breaking the fast is not healthy for the body as it is already in a weakened condition. Eating a date, therefore, first helps the body start its digestive process and gives it the energy to deal with the secondary, more complex foods, eaten during iftar.
Dates – Cultivation & Use
Dates can be found growing throughout the desert regions, from the Canaries and Morocco in the west to India in the east. Its growth is also reported from all the inner and littoral parts of North Africa, from the southern parts of Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor, from Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Baluchistan. In southern Europe, it is cultivated as an ornamental, but seldom matures fruit except in southern parts of Italy and Spain. Date is also cultivated in Arizona and California (USA), and Queensland (Australia). Historically, dates were in usage 8,000 years ago in western India, and were cultivated in Sumeria and the ancient Egyptian empire.
Dates have manifold usage, and according to Arabs its usage is as varied as there are days in the year. Being a high-energy food of high sugar content as well as a good source of iron and potassium, date is primarily cultivated for fruit, whether eaten fresh or dried. Considering that date diet is low in fats and proteins, Arabs eat them habitually with some form of milk. Date fruits are often preserved by drying or pressing them together into large cakes. Other products include date honey, made from juice of fresh fruit; date sugar; date sap, often made into a fermented beverage; date palm flour, made from pith of tree; the palm heart, eaten as a salad; oil from seeds for soap manufacture; the kernels are ground up or soaked in water for days and used for animal food; seeds are also strung as beads; and, leaves are used to weave mats, while the fibers provide thread and rigging for boats. In medieval days, the palm was thought to prevent sunstroke, avert lightening, cure fevers, and drive away mice and fleas.
Eating dates daily during Ramadan is like taking a daily multivitamin. Dates are high in vitamins A and B6, folic acid, potassium, natural sodium, iron, and magnesium. Dates have high dietary fiber content (6.5-18 percent), which prevents any constipation that might result from eating the traditionally rich foods served during Ramadan. Besides, dates also protect the stomach and intestinal tract from parasites and bacteria, and thus is a good preventive medicine when eating iftar at unfamiliar locations.
According to studies, Bedouin Arabs, who have a diet that regularly includes dates, have a very low incidence of cancer and heart disease. "Dates contain 7 vitamins and 11 minerals whose importance as a dietary supplement was appreciated by the desert people who, for thousands of years, ate dates with goat or camel milk as a complete sustenance," studies indicate. Increased intake of dates decreases the incidence of colon, breast and uterus cancer. Medical experts say that dates are found to be useful in the treatment of respiratory disorders, heart conditions, anemia, and constipation. Eating dates are considered beneficial for pregnant women and nursing mothers. Dates contain certain stimulants, which assist in the strengthening of the muscles of the womb thus leading to an easier delivery. Dates make an ideal high-energy food for nursing mothers because of about 80% sugar content.
Date is regarded as aphrodisiac, contraceptive, demulcent, diuretic, emollient, estrogenic, expectorant, laxative, pectoral, purgative, and refrigerant. In folk remedies, date is listed for anemia, asthma, bronchitis, cancer, cough, diarrhea, eyes, fatigue, fever, flu, gonorrhea, longevity, piles, sterility, stomachache, thirst, toothache, tuberculosis, urogenital ailments, vaginitis, virility, warts, indurations or tumors of the abdomen, gum, liver, mouth, parotids, spleen, testicle, and throat. According to superstitious belief, the pollen of a male date palm mixed with water is a charm against childlessness. As per Egyptian belief, swallowing one, two, or three date stones will prevent child-bearing for many years.
[Danish Ahmad Khan is a Journalist based at New Delhi. He is Executive Editor of IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be reached at email@example.com]