Ethnic And International Foods

Eating Dates in Ramadhan

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Ramadhan is a time of religious reflection, prayer, and fasting. It is the ninth month in Islam's lunar calendar and during the entire month, observant Muslims must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and other pleasures from sunrise to sunset. This is the month that Allah (God) began revealing the Qur'an (Islam's holy book) to the Prophet Muhammad. It is religious obligation for Muslims to fast - not only to discipline their body and mind, but to remember people less fortunate than they.

The fast is traditionally broken with dates - a tradition dating back to the 7th century when the Prophet ate them to break his fasts. There are many hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) regarding the benefit of eating dates, not only after fasting but at other times: "Whoever finds dates should break his fast with them and the one who does not should break his fast with water because it is pure," "Indeed in dates there is a cure," "The one who eats seven dates in the morning will be protected that day from poison and envy," and "The family who has dates will not go hungry."

Dates contain natural sugar - a concentrated source of energy. This immediate source of energy helps the body start its digestive process and helps it to deal with the usually complex and rich foods eaten during iftar (the first meal of the fasting day). Dates are also easily digestible; thus, breaking one's fast with them and then going to the mosque to pray before iftar, gives them time to metabolize in the body. They also contain many vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A and B6, potassium, calcium, iron, and beta carotene. Many other nutrients in dates help protect the stomach and intestinal tract from parasites and bacteria. High in dietary fiber, dates can help prevent constipation which can result from the change of one's eating habits during the month. As an added bonus, they are sodium-, fat-, and cholesterol-free.

Dates are also served during the 'Eid al-Fitr (the three-day celebration at the end of Ramadhan). No doubt, the quantity of dates either imported or exported increases dramatically during this holy month. Muslim countries start stockpiling dates two to three months before the advent of Ramadhan and it is estimated that millions of tons are consumed during that month alone. You don't have to be a Muslim nor does it have to be Ramadhan to enjoy the many benefits of eating dates.

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