By Sara Chaudhry
Abdullah bin Umar radi Allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ (peace be upon him) said, “There is a tree amongst trees, the leaves of which do not wither and that is like a Muslim; tell me what that (tree) can be?” The people began to think of the trees of the forest. Abdullah said, “I thought it could be the date palm tree, but I feel hesitant (to say it).” They (the companions) then asked, “Allah’s Messenger, (kindly) tell us which it can be?” Thereupon he ﷺ replied, “It is the date palm tree.” Abdullah made a mention of that to his father, Umar ibn Al Khattab (ra), whereupon he said to Abdullah: “Had you said that it meant the date palm tree, this statement of yours (would have been dearer to me) than such and such things.” Hadith no.133 (Bukhari and Muslim)
This hadith (narration) contains a parable allowing us to investigate the characters and attributes of a date-palm tree so that we can apply these qualities in our own lives. Islam encourages us to seek knowledge and this hadith motivates us to understand knowledge, no matter how old or young a person is. Knowledge is a gift from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) and only Allah gives it to whomever He wills. Haya’ (modesty) is recommended in Islam as long as it does not prevent one from attaining benefit, which is why Umar (ra) wished Abdullah had spoken up at the time.
The hadith also teaches us to think and pay attention; our deen (religion) encourages us to seek knowledge and if a question is asked we should respond accordingly if we know the answer.
I never really thought about the magnificence of the date palm until this hadith was explained to me. This hadith resonates with me as a Muslim living in the West, where my actions and speech are looked at by society through a magnified lens. I am constantly aware of how important my actions are in the public sphere. With the growing isolation of Muslim communities, this hadith contains valuable lessons that we can all implement in our lives.
So, what are the parallels between the date palm and the Muslim?
Firstly, the date palm is one of the slowest growing trees. It can take up to 4-8 years before it begins to bear fruit. The roots of the date palm are nurtured for several years before it becomes strong and firm. When it begins to grow dates, it continues to benefit its environment for generations into the future. As Muslims, we can use this process to understand how we ought to nurture our spiritual selves. We all have to go through a period of absence before we can grow and develop. It takes time and steadfastness to study and learn before we can turn knowledge into meaningful action. How much we have benefitted from our knowledge is externalized by our conduct with others and with our surroundings. Internally, however, Imam Malik ibn Anas (ra) explains, “Knowledge does not consist in narrating much. Knowledge is but a light which Allah places in the heart.”
Secondly, date palm trees do not need a forest in which to grow. They are resourceful in and of themselves. Allah (swt) has given each and every one of us limitless potential, and we should never underestimate what we can achieve with this. Whether we are at the local mosque, school, or work, or with our neighbors, friends or family, there is always an opportunity to help support those around us.
Thirdly, we do not grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges. The date palm tree grows in hot climates with harsh conditions. Nevertheless, it is still able to bring benefit to everything around it, from its nutritious fruits to its comforting shade. The believer embodies this idea of benefit. The believer is versatile, and (s)he will keep giving no matter what environment (s)he is in. Therefore, like a date palm, a Muslim should thrive and be a fountain of benefit to society, even in the most difficult of environments and conditions.
Lastly, the date palm has a purpose, just like the Muslim. We should take this prophetic guidance to help motivate us to achieve excellence in our daily affairs in our communities. By volunteering, giving charity, serving others, and upholding good ties with everyone we meet, we will eventually bring nourishment and fulfillment to our own lives and to society. Just like dates, we are society’s super food.
Insha’ Allah (God-willing), this article will help us reflect upon this hadith and be of benefit to all those around us—in mind, body and spirit.