Muslims worldwide traditionally break their fast of Ramadan with a bowl of dates, just as the Prophet Muhammad did some 1,400 years ago.
For Muslims observing Ramadan in the United States, it’s a good bet those dates come from California.
Dates are popular during Ramadan, and for good reason. “They’re the perfect food to eat when breaking the fast, as they help our bodies rise in blood sugar levels in a safe and moderate way,” said Yvonne Maffei, who writes a popular cooking and nutrition blog, My Halal Kitchen.
Most of the world’s dates are grown in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. But Shahed Amanullah — the founder of altmuslim.com, a Muslim news website — argues that some of the best are from his native California, in the fertile Coachella Valley. “My date of choice is a Medjool date, large and plump,” he said in a blog post.
The migration of date palms to the United States has strong parallels with the American Muslim experience.
In the 1920s, the ruler of Morocco sent 11 young date palms to Southern California. “Like those dates, Muslims have also thrived in American soil,” Amanullah said.
Amanullah remembers first tasting California dates during childhood expeditions in Riverside County.
“My father used to take me on pilgrimages to Mecca. Not the holy city in Saudi Arabia, but the town of Mecca, California, where the annual Date Festival is held,” he recalled.
“We got to sample every type of date available — Zahidi, Deglet Noor, Empress and others,” he said. “In this part of California, dates are not only celebrated, but their links to the Arab and Muslim world are acknowledged respectfully.
“The date growers we met even asked us if they were pronouncing the Arabic names properly.”
This article was originally published on June 13, 2016.