The Qurʾān uses nakhl to denote date palm. In addition, fourteen other terms are used for the palm tree, its fruit or parts. The Qurʾānic usage is both literal and metaphorical (see below).
Definitions and Usage
The root n-kh-l occurs 20 times in the Qurʾān (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub n-kh-l) in three nominal forms: the collective noun nakhl occurs eleven times (Q 6:99; 6:141; 18:32; 20:71; 26:148; 50:10; 54:20; 55:11; 55:68; 69:7; 80:29); the noun “nakhla” occurs twice (Q19:23; 19:25) and the plural form “nakhīl” is used seven times (Q 2:266; 13:4; 16:11; 16:67; 17:91; 23:19; 36:34).
According to Abū-l-Faḍl Jamāl al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Mukarram Ibn Manẓūr (630-711/1233-ca.1312) nakhla is the tree bearing dates (shajaratu-l-tamr); the usual plural forms are nakhl and nakhīl and if the number is between three [and ten] it is nakhalāt....Nakhl is generally feminine in the language, but the people of Najd make it masculine (Fīrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir, baṣīra fī nakhl).
Fourteen other vocables used for date palm, its parts, or fruit are:
- “aʿjāz (plural form of ʿajuz)” trunks of the palm tree (Q 54:20; 69:7) (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub, ʿ-j-z);
- “akmām (plural form of kumm)” – the date bud, calyx (Q 41:47; 55:11) the material that covers the fruit (al-thamra), as in Therein is fruit and palm trees having sheaths [of dates] (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub k-m-m); there exists a “kimm” form (pls. akmām, akimma, kimām, akāmīm) with the same meaning;
- “dusur [singular form: disār]” – palm fiber cord, hapax legomenon in the Qurʾān (Q 54:13), generally it is explained as mismār/ masāmīr – nail(s) by which the wooden planks are tightly forced together (Ibn Kathīr; Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād) but some lexicographers say that it is a kind of palm fiber cord (khayṭ min līf) by which the wooden parts of the ship are put together (Ibn Maẓūr, Lisan, sub ḥarf al-rāʾ, faṣl al-dāl). Some modern translations of the Qurʾān use this meaning, like that of Yūsuf Ali “and caulked with palm-fibre”.
- “haḍīm” – palm spathe, hapax legomenon in the Qurʾān (Q 26:148) that is a spike of minute flowers carefully arranged around a soft and fleshy axis (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub h-ḍ-m) and also when one part enters the other (Zajjāj, Maʿānī);
- “janā” – fresh ripe dates, hapax legomenon in the Qurʾān (Q 55:54) and it denotes the fruits that are easily collected in a fresh form (Baghawī, Tafsīr);
- “jidhʿ - (plural form: judhūʿ)” – palm trunk (Q 19:23, 25; 20:71); This part of the palm tree appears in a Prophetic tradition, related by Jābir b. ʿAbdullāh (see: Dhahabī, Siyar, Juzʾ 3, No. 38), “The roof of the Mosque [in Madina] was built on trunks of date palms (masqūfan ʿalā judhūʿin min nakhlin) working as pillars. When the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, delivered a sermon (idhā khaṭaba), he used to stand by one of those trunks till the pulpit (minbar) was made for him, and he used it instead. Then we heard the trunk sending a sound like that of a pregnant she-camel (ka-ṣawt al-ʿishār), till the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, came to it and put his hand upon it, then it became quiet” (Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, Kitāb al-manāqib, bāb ʿalāmāt al-nubuwwa fī-l-Islām);
- “līna” – a kind of palm tree, hapax legomenon in the Qurʾān (Q 59:5), it is a general reference to any kind of palm-tree that is [its fruit] delicious (nāʿima) (Rāghib, Mufradāt). Mujāhid (d. 102/720 or 104/722) holds that līna comprises all species of date palm even the ʿajwa date (Makkī, Hidāya); Abū-l-Faraj Jamāl al-Dīn, Ibn al-Jawzī al-Qurashī al-Baghdādī (510-597/ca.1116-1200) explains this further “there are six explanations: i. it is date palm (al-nakhl) the ʿajwa dates; ii. date palms and trees together; iii. all kinds of date palms except al-ʿajwa and al-barniyya [a roundish, superior quality date with excessive yellow and red color]; iv. all kinds of date palms; v. excellent quality date palms; vi. a kind date palm and its fruit is called al-lawn with excessive yellow color and even its seed can be seen from outside the fruit” (Zād);
- “masad” – fibers appearing at the roots of palm branches, hapax legomenon in the Qurʾān (Q 111:5) many exegetes hold that this noun is a synonym of līf (palm fibers) others hold that it is anything twisted together be it made of date palm fibers or of any other material (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād) masad in the language of the Arabs is a rope made of date palm fibers (Zajjāj, Maʿānī);
- “naqīr” – speck on a date seed; the groove in the date stone (Q 4:53; 124), a tiny cavity (waqba) on the surface of the date seed (Rāghib, Mufradāt); Ibn al-Jawzī explains further “it can be either a tiny speck on the date seed or the covering membrane (al-qishr) on the middle of the date seed or it is the date seed (ḥabbat al-nawāt)” (Zād);
- “nawā” – the date seed, hapax legomenon in the Qurʾān (Q 6:95) this is the dry seed of which Allah brings forth the green leaves (Zajjāj, Maʿānī), the noun is especially dedicated to the date palm (Wāḥidī, Wajīz);
- “qinwān [singular form: qunw and qinw]” – fruit of the palm when ripe, fruit stalks, hapax legomenon in the Qurʾān (Q 6:99); generally, it is “bunch of dates” its synonym is “ʿadhq pl. aʿdhāq” (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub q-n-w) bunches of date hanging down toward the ground (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr);
- “qiṭmīr” – membrane of a date seed, the very thin skin surrounding the date stone, hapax legomenon in the Qurʾān (Q 35:13) the size of this membrane is similar to the thinnest material (Rāghib, Mufradāt);
- “ṭalʿ” - the spadix of the palm (Q 50:10) the date tree with fruits superimposed one above the other (Baghawī, Tafsīr); imam Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad, al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273) remarks “ṭalʿ is the first part of the date fruit that appears or it is the kuffurā before it bursts” (Tafsīr), but it can simple refer to the fruit (thamr) itself (Wāḥidī, Wajīz).
- “ʿurjūn” – the dry date stalk, hapax legomenon in the Qurʾān (Q 36:39), it has a bright yellow color; this is why Allah Most High compared the moon to it: “And the moon – We have determined for it phases, until it returns [appearing] like the old date stalk (ka-l-ʿurjūni-l-qadīm)” (Q 36:39). It is a branch of the date palm that is stripped of its leaves and is totally dry and twisted out of shape (iʿwajja) (Wāḥidī, Wajīz).
The "good tree" in Q 14:24 is also glossed as palm tree by some exegetes: “See you not how Allah sets forth a parable? A goodly word as a goodly tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches [reach] to the sky” (Samarqandī, Baḥr; Samʿānī, Tafsīr; Wāḥidī, Wajīz;).Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad b. Jarīr, al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-923) quotes the opinion of Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688) who holds that the “goodly word” is the testimony of faith (shahāda, see Pillars of Islam) and the “goodly tree” is the believer (Tafsīr; see also: Makkī, Hidāya). Other exegetes explain the “goodly word” to refer to the Qurʾān itself (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt).
A Sign of Allah’s Allah’s munificent care and blessings
Date Palm is an evergreen tree capable of living over 100 productive years (Al-Mssallem et al., “Genome sequence of the date palm Phoenix dactylifera L.,” Nature Communications 4:2274). Every part of the date palm has benefits (manāfīʿ) for humankind as all of its parts can be utilized: palm leaves (khūṣ) are used for preparing baskets (al-qafāṣ), palm branches stripped of their leaves (al-jarīd) are used for preparing mats (ḥuṣur) and ropes (al-ḥibāl), its pith (lubb) is edible, the palm trunk is used for making roofs (suquf) and the palm trunk (kurnāfahā) is used for making fire (Shanqīṭī, ʿAdhb, tafsīr, sūrat al-anʿām).
Date palm is often mentioned with other useful plants like the grape, the olive and pomegranates (Q 2:266; 6:99; Q 6:141; 13:4 16:11; 16:67; 17:91; 18:32; 55:68; 80:29; see Plants and Vegetation). Both date palm and grapes are said to produce goodly provisions (rizqan ḥasana, Q 16:67), glossed as their lawful and permitted byproducts (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr), such as vinegar (al-khall), raisins (zabīb), dates (al-tamr) and thickened juice (rubb) (Baghawī, Tafsīr). Their beauty is eye-catching in the trellised and untrellised gardens where lofty (bāsiqāt) date palm trees having fruit are arranged in layers (Q 50:10), as this is the way date palms are (Samʿānī, Tafsīr). After his arrival in Madina, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, used to ask for ten loads (awsuq) of dates at the time of harvest for feeding the needy; these used to hang with their bunches (bi-qinw) in the Mosque (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr).
Allah Most High guided Maryam, upon her peace, to the date palm during her labor pain. It was a dry trunk, as per Ibn ʿAbbās (in Samarqandī; Baḥr; also see Tafsīrs of Yaḥya b. Salam; Ibn Abī Ḥātim; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, all sub Q 19:25), but when she shook it with her hands, it was revived and was instantly covered with verdant leaves and it successively produced balaḥ, zahw and ruṭab [in its different phases of ripening] (Samʿānī, Tafsīr), and it happened in the blink of the eye (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr), thus Allah made this event a sign and a lesson (Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 19:25). ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (13bh-40/609-660), Allah be pleased with him, said, “Give your women in childbirth ruṭab, and if [you do not find] ruṭab, then at least the normal date (fa-l-tamr), for there is no tree more honored in the sight of Allah than the tree under which Maryam bint ʿImrān sat” (Abū Yaʿlā, Musnad, Musnad ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib raḍiya-Llāhu ʿanhu, 1:353-354 no. 455). The best thing that can be given to a woman in childbirth (al-nafsāʾ) is ruṭab (fresh ripe date) and then the dry date (tamar) (cf. Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 19:25); it was the practice of the Pious Predecessors (al-salaf) (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 19:25). Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥusayn b. Masʿūd al-Farrāʾ al-Baghawī (d. 516/1122) quotes the opinion of al-Rabīʿ b. Khuthaym [see: Dhahabī, Siyar, Juzʾ 4, No. 95], who said “I cannot suggest anything better than ruṭab for women in childbirth and honey (ʿasal) for the sick” (Tafsīr, sub Q 19:25).
Date Palm in the Hereafter
Date-palms are in the gardens of Paradise: In both [gardens] are fruit (fākihatun) and date palm trees (nakhl) and pomegranates (rummān)” (Q 55:68). Exegetes explicate the specific mention of date palms and pomegranates. Jār Allāh Abū-l-Qāsim Maḥmūd b. ʿUmar, al-Zamakhsharī (467-538/ca.1074-1143) says, “their mention by name is indicative of their excellence and to the fact that date is a fruit and food (ṭaʿām) and pomegranate is fruit and medicine (dawāʾ)” (Kashshāf). Fakhr al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿUmar, al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) says date palm and pomegranates are opposites to one another, the former is sweet the other not so sweet and from the dates one can eat what is apparent and not the hidden parts, whereas the edible part in the pomegranates is hidden. Thus reference to these two opposites covers all other [fruits] between them, as [this method] can also be observed in His words “Lord of the two sunrises (al-mashriqayn) and Lord of the two sunsets (al-maghribayn)” (Q 55:17) (Tafsīr). Their mention refers to their superiority and their beauty among the fruits (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr).
Allah cleaves the date seed (al-nawā)
Indeed, Allah is the cleaver of grain and date seed. He brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living. That is Allah. Then how are you deluded!” (Q 6:95) expresses supreme Divine Power of creation (see also: Q 6:99, 141; 13:4; 16:11, 67; 80:29). “This statement is also a warning to the polytheists, for their deities are not able to perform a similar act of creation” (Makkī, Hidāya; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). The act of “cleaving” refers to creation (khalq) (Zajjāj, Maʿānī; Rāzī, Tafsīr; Makkī, Hidāya, Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). Allah Most High creates green leaves and verdant plant from the dry inanimate date seeds (Wāḥidī, Basīṭ).
As a Simile
In two verses (Q 54:20; 69:7), the transgressing nation of ʿĀd is likened to dry trunks of date palm after their destruction by a violent wind (bi-rīḥin ṣarṣarin) that raged for seven nights and eight days without interruption. The wind separated their heads from their bodies and these latter were thrown to the ground (Baghawī, Tafsīr) or [the wind] lifted them high in the air (fī-l-hawāʾ), then cast them to the ground and thus they turned to be like hollow (khāwiya) dry trunks of date palms (Suyūṭī, Muʿtarak, al-juzʾ al-thānī, ḥarf al-mīm). The punished nation is compared, after the wind threw them prostrate on their faces, to the dry trunks of palm trees (ka-annahum aʿjāzu nakhlin) that had fallen to the ground (Wāḥidī, Wajīz, sub Q 54:20). This absolute comparison (al-tashbīh al-muṭlaq) (Nuwayrī, Nihāya, al-tashbīh, al-awwal, al-tashbīh al-muṭlaq) is described by Abū-l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā, al-Rummānī as “a simile that brings forth an unprecedented act [raising a nation] added to an event [mentioned earlier—palm trees thrown to the ground]; both of them are scattered and extracted by the wind and both of them are destroyed by the wind; this verses contains a proof of [His] infinite power and warns not to hasten the punishment” (Nukat, fī-l-tashbīh). This comparison suggests that this nation consisted of high persons similar to the lofty palm trees and their heads were cut off, only their trunks remained on the ground (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 69:7; Baqāʿī, Naẓm, sub Q 54:20). In the verse “extracting (tanziʿu) people as if they were (ka-annahum) trunks of date palm trees uprooted (munqaʿir)” (Q 54:20), the verb “tanziʿu” is used in place of naṣb (subjunctive or accusative form) as a qualifying adjective for the wind and the suffixed particle “ka-annahum” is used as a circumstantial phrase describing people, and the implied meaning is that “We sent upon them a raging wind that extracted (nāziʿa) and made them similar to trunks of palm trees (Makkī, Mushkil, sharḥ mushkil iʿrāb sūrat al-qamar). This construction uses a particle of comparison (ḥarf al-tashbīh—ka) to which is added a corroborating particle (ḥarf muʾakkid—annahum) so that…this figure of speech becomes an experiential (ḥissiyy) perception (Zarkashī, Burhān, tābiʿ al-naw al-sādis wa-l-arbaʿūn, al-tashbīh, al-khāmis: fī aqsāmihi; Suyūṭī, Itqān, al-nawʿ al-thālith wa-l-khamsūn, fī tashbīhihi wa istiʿārātihi; Suyūṭī, Muʿtarak, al-wajh al-rābiʿ wa-l-ʿishrūn min wujūh iʿjāzihi, tashbīhuhu wa istiʿārātuhu). It is to be observed that in Q 54:20, the date palm is used in the masculine form and it is qualified by a masculine adjective “munqaʿir” (Q 54:20), while in Q 69:7, it is used in the feminine form and qualified by a feminine adjective “khāwiya”; this is in order to differentiate between the two usages or respecting the linguistic nature of nakhl—which is used both as masculine and feminine noun (Anṣārī, Fatḥ, sūrat al-qamar; Ālūsī, Rūḥ).
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