Dates are all the craze in the health food world these days. It only takes a quick Google search to discover that the sugary fruit of the date palm tree native to the Middle East is rich in dietary fiber and antioxidants. Dates contain phytochemicals or phytonutrients, compounds produced by plants that provide health benefits to the body. Consequently, they are the star ingredient in all sorts of healthy recipes that are popular on the internet and social media.
Even though dates have been trending as a superfruit in recent years, Muslims have long recognized their superior nutritional value. In an authentic hadith, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“A house which has dates will never suffer hunger.”
It is therefore no surprise that dates are a staple in many Muslim households, especially during the month of Ramadan, as they are traditionally used to break the daily fast. After a month of eating dates, however, it is natural that Muslims may grow weary of these sweet delights. As a reminder of the advantages of consuming dates, we can take a close look at the Quran and Sunnah for inspiration.
The following are some of the narrations that confirm what Muslims already know:
Dates are the best …
1. Before fasting.
The most suitable suhoor, or predawn meal, is one that will provide energy and beneficial nutrients throughout the day. Having dates before fasting provides a quick supply of energy to satisfy the body's needs. They are easily digested, and their high fiber content keeps a person feeling fuller longer. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“The most excellent pre-fasting meal of the believer is dates.”
2. To break the fast.
In another hadith, Salman ibn Amir reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“When one of you breaks his fast, let him break it with dates for they are blessed. If they are not found, let him break it with water for it is pure.”
After a daylong fast, sugar levels in the body drop significantly. Therefore, the fasting person will need an instant source of energy. Other foods may take time to be digested, sometimes requiring hours for nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream, but not so for dates. Since they are high in glucose and fructose, and easy to digest, they provide an excellent and speedy energy source.
3. To eat daily.
There are many reasons why dates should be eaten not just during Ramadan, but on a daily basis year-round. According to research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), dates are rich in vitamins, minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, and selenium. Besides providing these essential nutrients, the fruit benefits human health in the following ways:
- Dates are anti-microbial.
- They are antioxidant.
- They are anti-inflammatory.
- They are nephron-protective (they protect the kidneys)
- They are anti-diabetic.
- They are anti-tumor and may help the body fight cancer cell growth.
- They are hepato-protective (they protect the liver).
- They are a sex hormone modulator and may help treat infertility.
- They provide labor and delivery relaxation.1
Dates have been shown to help manage the risk of many chronic diseases. Aside from dates being the food that was readily available at the time, their nutritional content may be the reason why the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, consumed them on a regular basis. Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, reported:
“The household of Muhammad never ate two meals in a day but that one of them consisted of dates.”
4. For weight management.
Did you know that pairing dates with cucumber can help you gain healthy weight? Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, said:
“My mother intended to make me gain weight to send me to the (house of) the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, but nothing which she desired benefited me until she gave me cucumber with fresh dates to eat. Then I gained as much weight (as she desired).”
It was also a habit of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, to also eat the same combination. Abdullah ibn Jafar reported:
“I saw the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, eating fresh dates with cucumbers.” (Muslim)
5. Before Eid.
Dates are not just for Ramadan, they are for Eid too! It was a habit of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, to eat dates before going out for the Eid prayer. Anas ibn Malik reported:
“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, would not proceed on the day of Eid al-Fitr without eating some dates, and that they would be an odd number.”
When preparing for Eid, make sure to pack a bag of dates, and do not forget to consume them in odd numbers to emulate the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Eating plump, delicious, healthy dates on Eid will make the holiday even sweeter, inshaAllah, God willing.
6. For pregnant women.
The benefits of dates for women who are pregnant and after delivery are highlighted in the story of the Maryam, or the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, in the Quran. In Surah Maryam, the chapter that bears her name, Allah tells the story of her miraculous conception and birth. When she was overtaken by labor pains, she was instructed to eat dates. Allah says in the Quran:
“And shake the trunk of this palm tree towards you, it will drop fresh, ripe dates upon you. So, eat and drink and be contented…”
(Surah Maryam, 19:25-26)
The scholar Ibn Al-Jawzi, said: “The Salaf (righteous predecessors) recommended ripe fresh dates for women during their postpartum bleeding, according to the story of Maryam (Mary), may Allah exalt her mention (in the Quran).” (Zaad Al-Maseer)
Medical research has determined that fresh dates contain a substance that contracts the uterus and strengthens uterine muscles and helps with childbirth. It also effectively reduces the amount of postnatal bleeding. Dates contain iron and eating a small amount provides the necessary daily intake, which is essential to replenish red blood cells lost during childbirth. Similarly, they contain a high number of simple sugars that are easily digested, a basic source of energy that is beneficial for the uterine muscles and the body in general.2
7. For newborns.
Dates are beneficial for people of all ages, including newborns. Through the Sunnah practice of tahnik, or rubbing mashed dates in the palate of a newborn, babies are introduced to their pleasant flavor early. The companion, Abu Musa, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated:
“I had a baby boy, and I brought him to the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. He named him Ibrahim, did tahnik with some dates and prayed for Allah to bless him, then he gave him back to me.”
Interestingly, recent studies have shown that rubbing a sweet substance like sugar water or gel into a baby’s mouth shortly after birth can prevent complications associated with hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Only ten years ago, the BBC released a news headline lauding this practice as a breakthrough in neonatal medicine. According to their report from September 2013, “a dose of sugar given as a gel rubbed into the inside of the cheek is a cheap and effective way to protect premature babies against brain damage.”3 More recently, researchers are exploring the efficacy of dates for the same purpose.
Science may have just discovered the effectiveness of tahnik, however many babies benefitted from the practice during and after the lifetime of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Asma bint Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with her, reported that she had become pregnant at Mecca with Abdullah b. Zubair and she (further) said:
I set out (for migration to Medina) as I was in the advanced stage of pregnancy. I came to Medina and got down at the place known as Quba and gave birth to a child (Abdullah) there. Then I came to Allah's Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him. He placed him (the child) in his lap and then commanded for the dates to be brought. He chewed them and then put the saliva in his mouth. The first thing which went into his stomach was the saliva of Allah's Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him. He then rubbed his palate with dates and then invoked blessings for him and blessed him. He was the first child who was born in Islam (after migration).”
We have learned about seven major benefits of eating dates which have not only been substantiated by scientific evidence, but more importantly established by our faith tradition. These are more than enough reasons to make eating dates a regular part of our routine. Some may argue that the mention of dates in Prophetic narrations is only because they were a common staple in Arabia at the time. However, dates are recognized for their nutritional value worldwide and their medicinal uses are relevant today. So, we say, grab a date, say bismillah, and enjoy these powerhouses of flavor and nutrients this Ramadan and beyond.
Now we all know the health benefits of eating dates, but after weeks of breaking our fast with them, we may still be a little hesitant to eat more of nature’s candy. Here is a recipe that will make you fall in love with dates all over again. Enjoy!
Cheese-Stuffed Medjool Dates
- 8 ounces of medjool dates
- 1 ounce of cream, goat, or bleu cheese
- 2 ounces of chopped almonds, walnuts, pistachios, or pecans
- Split the date lengthwise and remove pit.
- Stuff with 1 tsp of cheese.
- Sprinkle with 1 tsp chopped nuts.
- Serve chilled.
For a less nutty variation, omit chopped nuts and eat dates on top of low-sodium saltine crackers. You may also try them drizzled with melted chocolate or nut butter. They are the perfect balance between salty and sweet!
1 Therapeutic effects of date fruits (Phoenix dactylifera) in the prevention of diseases via modulation of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-tumour activity
2 Effect of Dates in Late Pregnancy on the Duration of Labor in Nulliparous Women | PMC
3 'Sugar gel' helps premature babies | BBC News
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.
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