Many Muslims in the UK are preparing for the holy time of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which runs from the 7th June to 6th of July this year. Ramadan is a period of prayer, fasting, self-accountability and charity giving. It is a time for increased religious devotion and self-examination, similar to the way Christians observe Lent. Practicing Muslims observe the month of Ramadan by fasting during daylight hours, breaking their fast at sunset with a meal known as iftar. Some have a small meal just before the sun rises (known as suhoor).
Not eating or drinking for long periods of time can put the body under a lot of stress and some people can develop temporary minor health problems such as headaches, low blood sugar and lethargy. When the body is in this weakened condition, eating large quantities of food immediately after fasting is not recommended.
However, dates contain a high level of natural sugars, making them a perfect food with which to break the daily fast, as the sugars travel straight to the liver helping the body to kick start its digestive process and give it the energy to deal with more complex foods eaten during the evening iftar meal. They also provide an excellent source of fibre, magnesium, potassium, folic acid, natural sodium, iron vitamins A and B6 AND have carbohydrates which will all aid the body in maintaining general health during Ramadan, like a natural multi-vitamin tablet!
Dates have long been one of the staple foods of the Middle East and they hold a special place in Islam as they are mentioned in the Qur’an more than 20 times. The Prophet Mohammad is reported to have said:
“If anyone of you is fasting, let him break his fast with dates. In case he does not have them, then with water.”
So consuming this particular fruit is spiritually beneficial for Muslims, as they feel more connected to him. It is traditional to eat a few dates with water just before the evening prayers.
Ramadan is also a month of charity and many Muslims take part in food drives or other charity events.
Manal Ramadan from Zaytoun tells us why supporting Fairtrade is particularly important during Ramadan:
“We want to encourage Muslims to buy Palestinian ethically-sourced dates this Ramadan and all year round. Trade justice is an important principle in Islam and can be put into practice by breaking your fast with fair trade dates from marginalised Palestinian farmers. It’s important to check that your dates are not from illegal settlements.
Zaytoun provide fairly-traded Medjoul Dateswhich are sourced from Palestinian farms around the ancient city of Jericho, an occupied area which is seeing vast tracts of land illegally confiscated by the Israeli government. They are a vital source of income for Jordan Valley farmers who are striving to grow trade opportunities in order to retain their own land, while facing daily struggles in accessing their water resources.
The siege of Gaza has prevented Zaytoun from importing produce from Gaza for the last 9 years, however we continually strive to connect with the farmers and producers there. This year we will be donating £1 from every 5kg of Medjoul dates sold for Ramadan to AtfalunaSociety for Deaf Children in Gaza who aim to improve the lives of deaf persons in the Gaza Strip by empowering them socially, economically, culturally and civilly. We’ve chosen this charity because it supports income generation through job creation and training.”
What you can do - your actions can make a tangible difference to Palestinian livelihoods:
Encourage Muslim friends to stock up on Zaytoun dates for Ramadan, we sell them in 250g, 500g, 1kg and 5kgboxes. If you are a Fair Trader perhaps try reaching out to your local mosque and asking if you can set up a stall there like one of supporters Becca Rowland did a few years back:
“Running a fair trade stall at the local mosque through Ramadan at Friday prayers felt like a worthwhile thing to do. Not only did I make links with local Muslims but we have found common ground on issues of justice.”
Spread the word to your local community, friends and family about your positive engagement with Palestine and encourage your local shop to stock Zaytoun products, which range from healthy Maftoul and Freekeh grains to Organic Olive Oil.