When you hear imam’s voice calling for the prayer from all minarets of the city, you know that everyone fasting is ready to break their fast. Some people are sitting at a perfect dinner table with a warm soup, a kind of meat as a main dish and various side dishes like rice pilaf, stuffed bulgur kofte, stuffed grapevine leaves or cabbage rolls, a green salad or cacik and a Turkish dessert to end their meal while unfairly enough, some people have just one kind of dish or just tomato, cheese and olive to end their fast. As we witness all over the world, not all people have the same chance of having the same food. However, when they hear imam’s voice as a reminder for breaking their fast, they all have the same feeling. Whatever they have on their table, they think they deserve to eat it after a long fast.
Breaking fast is not simply eating something for muslims. They generally take care to have certain foods at the very begining of meal. Dates (hurma in Turkish), which are known as the fruit of heaven, are on top of this list. The rest are olives and water. As these are holy for muslims, it’s important for them to start their meal with these. Dates, olive, and water have a special place in the holy book Quran, so muslims feel closer to God when they have these first. Why are dates more important for muslims during Ramadan? It’s said that our prophet Muhammed used to break fast with dates, and muslims want to follow him by having dates at the beginning of their meal. I think the prophet Muhammed had a good reason for this. He knew that the amount of sugar in dates would help people’s bodies and overcome low blood sugar caused by hunger during the day, so he advised muslims to break fast with these fruits of heaven. In addition, it’s told in Quran that God helped Meryem telling her to eat dates to bear her baby easily. Doctors still advise pregnant women to have dates during and after their pregnancy. They say that dates contain a big amount of sugar and this helps both recovering weak bodies of new mothers and increasing the amount of milk their babies need. Dates have many other benefits for health as they contain fruit sugar, vitamin A and B, calcium, phosphorus, protein, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc. As you see, it has the ingredients of most medicine. With these features, it is like a natural medicine against many diseases.
Date trees are so similar to palm trees. The main difference between a date tree and palm tree is that palm tree has no fruits and the other difference is their leaves. Leaves of date tree are so thin and sharp while palm tree has flat and softer leaves. We have lots of palm trees in the Southern region of Turkey, but unfortunately we don’t have date trees.
Dates, which we see at the markets mostly in Ramadan, have different kinds for every budget so that all people can buy. These are imported from Tunisia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and mostly from Iran. The cheapest dates are coming from Iran and the most expensive ones are from Medina, Saudi Arabia. There is a special species of dates in Medina, the tree of it was planted by the prophet Muhammed, so it’s known as date of prophet. As you can guess this one is the most expensive one, about 100 Turkish Liras (around $75). Personally, I think some big companies and date traders exploit peoples religious beliefs and they put more price on dates than their actual value. And this has nothing to do with Islam or humanity.
When you go to a restaurant for dinner during Ramadan, you see that there are one portion dates (totally free) on each table ready for muslims to break their fast. You can’t see this after or before Ramadan. When people hear imam’s voice, they have a date first, then they drink water and then start their meal.
Despite all positive sides of dates, it’s not so common to eat dates except the month Ramadan. While we can easily find dates everywhere during Ramadan, we can find them in some rare shops in other months. As a sweet tooth person, I love dates and I buy dates not just during Ramadan but I eat more during Ramadan. I think they are great alternatives to candies and chocolate. I guarantee they are not less desirable for kids than candies or chocolate.
By the way, there is an interesting tradition in my hometown. Old women don’t waste date seeds, they wrap one date seed with a small piece of cloth, give it a triangle shape and attach it on clothes of new born babies with a safety pin. They believe that it brings luck in their future life. And some people put these seeds in their wallets as they believe it brings money. I don’t have such superstitions, but I love the shape and color of date seeds.