Divine Dates and a Beetle from Hell

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An evil red beetle is threatening to destroy the most beloved fruit in Islam. The Arabic word for “date” is mentioned in the Holy Quran more than 20 times, more than any other fruit mentioned in Scripture. The Prophet Muhammad (God’s peace and blessings be upon him) especially loved the date palm and its fruit, and dates are a common staple in the diets of Muslims, especially throughout the blessed month of Ramadan. Breaking their fasting with dates and water is a daily tradition of most Muslims still today, following the Prophet’s recommendation, “Break your fast by eating dates, as it is purifying.” The fate of the delicious date has become a global concern, however, most recently touching Americans for the first time in a case of Red Palm Weevil found in Laguna Beach, California.

The Mystical Root of the Date Palm Tree

For more than 10,000 years, Saudi Arabia has been the homeland of the date palm tree. Its root may be older than that, however, as it’s recorded that the Prophet stated, “Ajwah dates are from Paradise.” Ajwah dates are an excellent variety grown in the Madinah region of Saudi Arabia. We can read about the date palm in Heaven in these lyrical verses from the Holy Quran:

“…And besides these two, there are two other Gardens –
Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
Dark-green in colour (from plentiful watering),
Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
In them (each) will be two Springs
Pouring forth water in continuous abundance,
Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
In them will be Fruits, and dates and pomegranates,
Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?”
[Quran 55:62-69]

Many world travelers to Saudi Arabia probably sampled this divinely delicious fruit, and returned home with baby date palms as souvenirs. It’s reported that Alexander the Great introduced them to India/Pakistan, and the first date palm in Spain arrived with the Muslim Khalifah AbdulalRahman. From Spain, the Portuguese introduced the date into Mexico, and by the 18th century, date palms travelled from Mexico to the USA.

The Date Palm Predator From Hell

Every predator has his prey, and the date palm is no exception to this rule. She is plagued by a devilish predator threatening economic disaster in every country where the date palm tree has travelled.

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The red palm weevil is native to Southeast Asia, but is known and hated by date palm growers all over the globe. According to the Center for Invasive Species Research at the University of California in Riverside, the red palm weevil is a species of snout beetle, growing to 35-40mm, or 1.4-1.6 inches in length. Females lay up to 500 eggs which hatch within 1-6 days. After hatching, they feed on surrounding palm tissue, boring into the center of the palm, weakening and killing it. The life cycle takes 45-139 days, during which they mate and lay eggs repeatedly before dying. In one year, 21 new generations of red palm weevils can occur.

The CISR at UC Riverside is monitoring the recent arrival of the red palm weevils (RPW) in Laguna Beach. They state, “Commercial date production is impacted in areas where RPW is established, resulting in tree death or reduced vigor in infested date palms. Red palm weevil represents a potential threat to California’s annual $30 million dollar date crop should it become established in date-growing areas of California. Ornamental palm tree sales are estimated at $70 million per year in California, and $127 million in Florida.”

UAE Plants a World Record 42 Million Date Palm Trees

California represents the latest battlefront, but wars have been waged between the date-loving world and the red palm weevil for over ten years. The United Arab Emirates has a great success story regarding her efforts to protect her date palm industry. In 2009, at the First International Date Palm Conference, the UAE entered the Guinness Book of World Records. The certificate states, “The world record for the most palm trees planted in 10 years is 42 million and was achieved by the UAE.”

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Dying Breed of Date Palm Cultivators Reviving in UAE

The UAE’s plantation of millions of date palms is a success story in a suffering region. Morocco plans to replace three million date palms, and as many as 40 million trees were wiped out by war and devastation in Iraq. Many older generation date palm cultivators have died, leaving a younger generation with no experience in date palm propagation.

At the Date Palm Conference in 2009, senior officials said that efforts to encourage date palm cultivation in the UAE are part of a comprehensive plan to achieve food security and sustainable development. Five years later, the UAE has proven her dedication and is again receiving global recognition for her successful efforts to sustain this important agricultural industry.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization Awards UAE With Global Recognition

In March 2014, at the Fifth International Date Palm Conference in Abu Dhabi, UAE, the United Nations Food And Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced plans to name UAE Cultivation as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.

The FAO initiative recognizes systems that reflect generations of farmers’ agricultural practices to preserve their produce for local communities, fostering sustainable agriculture and rural development. Thirty-nine countries attended the conference, held to promote research on date palm cultivation, improvement, and protection. Jose Graziano da Silva, Director General of the UN Organization, stated at this meeting, “The efforts to preserve and update knowledge on date palms has created a unique system that combines production and sustainability, safeguards biodiversity and helps to improve the livelihoods of those who till the land.”

One Date and a Glass Of Milk Are All You Really Need

Mohammed Abdul Muhsen, a member of the conference’s Scientific Committee, said the date palm’s range of uses for nutrition and raw materials make it important for food security, especially in the Middle East.  Food scientists report that one date and a glass of milk are enough to meet all of a person’s daily nutritional requirements. Their high caloric value strengthens people weakened by illness or suffering from extreme fatigue or malnutrition.

Dates contain fructose sugar, providing energy without rapidly raising blood sugar levels. Rich in fibre, fat, and proteins, they also contain sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, sulphur, phosphorus, and chlorine, as well as vitamins A, beta-carotene, B1, B2, B3 and B6. The potassium in dates regulates the water balance in the body, reducing high blood pressure, helping oxygen reach the brain, and stimulating kidneys to expel toxic bodily wastes.

Waging the War On Red Palm Weevils

Presenting ways to improve date-palm quality and safeguarding it from threats such as climate change, disease, and pests, conference researchers noted that more than 2.6 million red palm weevils were captured and killed in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, and the Western Region of UAE since February 2013. The Abu Dhabi Farmers’ Services Center said this was achieved with an Emirate-wide program using pheromone traps, monitored and maintained on the farmers’ behalf by ADFSC. More than 125,000 pheromone traps are installed at 21,735 farms. Apart from the traps, controlling the pest requires an integrated approach, cleaning trunks, removing offshoots, applying soil conditioners, irrigating properly, and providing nutrients and microbes to strengthen the palms.

A Woman Warrior/App Developer Designs an Effective Weapon

Chris Hirst, Chief Executive of the Abu Dhabi Farmers’ Services Center, says “Control of this pest requires a community-wide effort.” One woman in particular is highly praised by Hirst for her diligent work spreading the message about the damage red palm weevils cause and how communities can work together to control them.

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Ms. Farah Al Bastaki grew up in Rashidiya, UAE, with date palm trees all around her family home. “When the day came that I had to get rid of them, I was in shock,” she said. Red palm weevils destroyed dozens of Farah Al Bastaki’s date trees, but this ingenious Emirati woman designed an educational family game which evolved into an app to help save other families’ beloved date palm trees.

“I started with a simple board game that I gave away for free during date exhibitions,” said Al Bastaki. It was similar to Snakes and Ladders, but with the snakes replaced by red palm weevils. “After the positive feedback I got from parents I went to the second stage and decided to launch it electronically,” she continued. The app is in Arabic and English, available for Android and soon for iOS operating systems, featuring 10 mini-games revolving around the care of palm trees, including watering, pruning, and of course, killing the Evil Red Weevil.

The Prophet Muhamad would surely have approved, especially in this holy month of Ramadan. As we learn from his speech:

“…O people! If anyone amongst you arranges for iftar (meal at sunset) for any believer,
Allah will reward him as if he had freed a slave, and Allah will forgive him his sins.”
A companion responded, “but not all of us have the means to do so.”
The Prophet replied, “Keep yourself away from Hell-fire
though it may consist of half a date
or even some water if you have nothing else…”
(~The Prophet Muhammad)

If even half a date can save us from the fires of hell, let’s all download that app to help save the dates!

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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.