If there is any one food that comes to mind when one thinks of Ramadan, it's dates.
And if there is any one date that comes to mind in Ramadan, it's Ajwa.
The slightly round, soft black dates grown in the outskirts of Medina, Saudi Arabia are one of the most expensive and sought after dates produced in the world, in large part due to the Prophet Muhammad's (Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) statements about their anti-toxin and healing properties. For an entrepreneur like New Jersey resident Akil Mansuri, Ajwa dates represented a top quality product, but where was the supplier, and was their demand in America?
It was in 2010 that Mansuri went for umrah and came back with Ajwa dates. His family and friends loved the dates, but they were not consistently available in the United States. Knowing he needed a reliable and reputable supplier, Mansuri contacted Al-Alwani company in Saudi Arabia, a major producer of dates and date related products. “I started with a small consignment which we took to the ICNA convention and the response was pretty good, we sold out,” said Mansuri. Today, Mansuri's company, ZumZumStore, imports by the container, bringing in thousands of pounds of dates from Medina, including Ajwa as well as other varieties. He also imports the popular chocolate covered and almond dates.
“Getting [enough] customers to move that many dates was a challenge at first, but once we got our website up and we started advertising on Google, orders were coming in. We also have trusted relationships with retail stores and we supply them with dates,” explained Mansuri. Sometimes ZumZumStore gets a small order from a far off part of the country, and shipping costs all but cancel out his profit. Mansuri sends them the dates anyway. “I will take a hit on shipping to get my dates to people, once they taste them they will place larger orders,” he said.
Mansuri is one of a few importers of ajwa in the nation. Businesses tend to shy away from importing Ajwa because compared to other date varieties, Ajwa spoils easily. Like with all food imports, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspects all incoming date shipments. If 5% of the dates sampled at the receiving port contain fungus – seen as black material around the date seed – the entire container of dates if rejected. Mansuri said the black fungus is not harmful if eaten, but it is best that all dates are opened before eating. Fungus won't be found in almond or pitted dates since the seeds are removed. Cultivated once a year in the Medina area during the period between late summer and early fall, ajwa dates have a shelf life of about 6 months when stored at room temperature, and up to 1 year when frozen. Mansuri cautions consumers to be wary of black dates of various types being marketed as ajwa.“The real ajwa dates have distinctive, fine white lines on the outside,” he said.
Ajwa dates were made famous till the end of time through several sayings from the Prophet (Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) found in the collections of Bukhari, Muslim, and others:
“He who has a morning meal of seven ‘ajwa dates will not suffer harm that day through toxins or magic.” (Bukhari, Hadith 5327 and Muslim, Hadith 3814)
“The ‘ajwah dates of al-‘Aliya contain healing, and they are an antidote (when taken as) first thing in the morning.” (Muslim, Hadith 3815)
“The ‘ajwah dates of al-‘Aliya [a village outside Medina] taken as the first thing in the morning, in the state of fasting; contain healing for all (kinds of) magic or toxins.” (Musnad Ahmad, Hadith 23592)
Numerous scientific studies showed dates have a healing effect against heart and stomach ailments. Scientific evidence shows dates protect arteries, lower the risks of heart attack, help protect against digestive system related problems, and aid in eliminating toxic substances in the intestine. Health professionals who studied ajwa's properties as well as Islamic scholars who studied the ahadith about ajwa say to get maximum benefit out of ajwa dates, they have to be taken in the morning consistently as part of one's regular diet.
The ajwa seed was also mentioned by the Prophet Sallallahu 'alyi wa sallam, and Mansuri is confident there is a market for it. “Homeopathic [doctors] crush the ajwa seeds and get power known to open arteries, somewhat like a blood thinner,” explained Mansuri. “This is my next project, to produce ajwa seed powder, but it's a challenge because the seeds are very, very hard.”
As you strive to form good spiritual habits this Ramadan, don't forget your health. With ajwa dates, you get the best of both worlds.
For more information on ajwa dates or to order, visit zumzumstore.com.