From lush tropical rainforests to stark desert lands, from lofty mountain tops to shimmering seashores, we find an array of plants that scientists have estimated to be in the range of 422,000 species.
The astounding diversity of the plant kingdom, which incorporates trees, flowering plants, ferns, mosses, seaweed, and algae, has enthralled botanists for centuries.
Plants, the colorful garments of the earth, play a key role in protecting life on this planet. Trees, which cover a third of the earth’s surface, regulate the climate of the earth by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. In addition, plants provide nourishment, medicines, shelter, fuel, and clothing to humankind and animals alike. Plants also fulfill a beautifying and decorative function.
Botanical research by Muslim scholars can be traced back to the second year after Hijrah (7th Century AD) when a keen interest developed into the medicinal and agricultural aspects of the floral kingdom.
‘Ilm ul-nabaat, the science of plants, encompassed not only scientific studies that classified and described plants, but also contemplated the spiritual and moral lessons drawn from the plant world.
Blessings from Allah
If humankind attempted to count the blessings of this one favor of Allah, the plant kingdom, it would not be able to fathom the Greatness of the Creator.
In this three-part series, we will draw on the work of Dr. Iqtidar Faruqi’s Plants of the Qur’an to discuss three of the plants mentioned in the Qur’an and look at their characteristics, uses and benefits in our lives. The first of these is the date palm.
Date Palm: King of Oasis
The date palm, mentioned more than any other fruit-bearing plant in the Qur’an, is a symbol often associated with Islam and Muslims. Throughout the month of Ramadan, dates are a common ingredient in the Muslim diet.
The delectable fruit is sourced from the date palms of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even South Africa. Muslims begin and end their day of fasting with its sweet and nourishing flesh.
Phoenix dactylifera is the botanical name for the date palm. It is also referred to as nakhl in Arabic. Meanwhile, the fruit of the date palm is called tamr in many Arab and African countries.
The date palm is a tall evergreen and consists of both male and female trees (called dioecious). Only the female trees produce fruit, but one male tree can produce enough pollen to pollinate 40-50 female trees.
At Times of War
Prior to the advent of Islam, date palms, particularly the highly valued male trees, were often cut down and destroyed in battles between tribes. However, this practice was strongly discouraged by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and subsequent leaders and viewed as an act of “sacrilege on this earth” (Farooqi, 1997).
During military expeditions, soldiers were instructed not to harm innocent people, nor to cut down any vegetation. However, during the siege of the Banu Nadir tribe in Madinah, Muslims were forced to cut down date palms to “facilitate the movement of the army” (Farooqi, 1997).
The Banu Nadir were angry and wanted to know how the Prophet, “who always forbade corruption and injustice and castigated their perpetrators” (Haykal, 1990), could command the destruction of their orchards. This act greatly saddened the Muslims but was deemed necessary. A verse was revealed at this time that indicated the permissibility of their action in these circumstances.
“And what you (O Muslims) cut down of the palm-trees (of the enemy), or you left them standing on their stems, it was by leave of Allah, and in order that He might disgrace the Fasiqun (the rebellious, disobedient to Allah).” (Surat Al-Hashr 59:5).
The date palm, which is most commonly unbranched, can grow up to 30 meters. Its 4-5 meter long leaves surround the trunk in a spiral pattern. Branched forms of the date palm also occur (See Surah Ar-Ra’d above).
Date palms produce between five and ten bunches of dates per tree. A single large bunch may contain more than a thousand dates and can weigh between 6 to 8 kg. They begin to bear fruit at 3 to 5 years and reach full production after 10-12 years. Date palms can survive up to 150 years.
Date fruits vary in size, shape, and color. This drupe fruit is characterized by its thin skin, succulent, soft flesh and hard stone or seed in the middle. Unripe dates are green in color, maturing to yellow, then reddish-brown when fully ripe. Each of these states (green to ripe) has been given a particular name in Arabic.
The tree is grown in a nearly rainless belt in the Sahara, as well as in the Middle East in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, and Iraq. The variety of dates that are produced amount to 600 according to a report by the Agronomy and Range Science Management Department at the University of California.
In three date-producing countries, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, there is reported to be about 1,000 varieties of dates. Many of these varieties experience neglect and face possible extinction as efforts are concentrated on prized varieties (Campbell).
The date market in the noble city of Madinah, the Souq al-Tumour, sells about 150 varieties, differing in color, shape, taste, and price!
To Be Continued…
- Agronomy and Range Science Management Department. The crop of the day: The Date, Phoenix dactylifera.
- http://agronomy.ucdavis.edu/gepts/ pb143/CROP/Date/Date.htm
- Al-Shahib, W and Marshall, RJ, 1993. The fruit of the date palm: it’s possible use as the best food for the future? International Journal of Food and Science Nutrition, 54(4): 247-259.
- Campbell, FA, no date. GEF steps in as 1000 date varieties in danger.
- http://www.gefweb.org/Whats_New /Archives/GEF_Steps_in.pdf
- Farooqi, I, 1997. Plants of the Qur’an. Sidrah Publishers: India.
- Haouari, N, Wood, C, Griffiths, G and Levene, M, 1995. The analgesic effect of sucrose in full-term infants: a randomized controlled trial. British Medical Journal 310:1498-1500. (http://www.bmj.com)
- Haykal, MI, 1990. The life of Muhammad. Crescent Publishing Company: India.
- Kasapis, S, no date. Dates: A fruit of promise for the food industry. http://www.nizwa.net/agr/dates/ datefruit/datefruit.html
- Nasr, SH, 1976. Islamic Science: An illustrated guide. World of Islam Festival Publishing Company Ltd.: England.
- Omar-Muhammad, R, 2003. Dates: The crown of sweets. The Muslim Woman, 4(7): 26.
- Relief of Pain: A Medical Discovery. Islamic Voice, 15-04: 172.
This article is from our archive, originally published on an earlier date, and now republished for its importance.