One deliciously sweet yet nutritious snack you surely won’t miss out on in the Saharawi camps is a handful of dates, often dipped in a homemade sort of goat butter. While there are many choices of treat for the ever-hospitable Saharawi people to honor their guest with, dates (Arabic: atmar) are a favorite because of their deep meaning to Saharawis and in the Arab world generally.
In Islam, the majority religion of the region, dates and the date palms on which they grow are very symbolic. They represent abundance, power and faith, among other virtues. This meaning is not exclusive to Islam, as even in Judaism and Christianity, dates and date palms show up in the scriptures as having special significance.
In addition to dates being a common treat offered to guests in Saharawi homes, like other offerings of hospitality such as several rounds of tea, lotion and perfume, they play a crucial role in the Saharawi observance of their Islamic faith. During the month of Ramadan, when they join with all Muslims worldwide to fast from dawn to dusk, the daily fast is always broken first with a date. When celebrating weddings or the birth of children, dates are always available and each person should be sure to partake in this gracious gift of the hosts to their whole community.
At first thought, we may not think of words like ‘abundance’ or ‘power’ when considering people who have been refugees in the inhospitable desert for decades. But as the date palm can thrive in the harshest of environments, and still symbolize these characteristics, so do the Saharawi people. While their material resources are few, their generosity is abundant. Their love and dedication to all those they encounter is abundant. Their hope for a peaceful and just solution to their situation is powerful. And their faith is demonstrated through it all.
Post By: Heather Jost, November 3rd, 2020