Maryam Abbas

Not many people know that the majority of the world’s Medjool dates originate from California – even though they export only 15% of the worlds dates. But the origins of many Medjool date plantations stem from the export of the seeds from the East to the West.

The Spaniards exported dates for the purpose of professional agricultural research in the late 1800’s from Morocco and Basra to California to save them from disease. Now many of the plantations across the Middle East originate from these Medjool plantations – a form of ‘date saving’ if you like.

Reshma Hyder, a foreign fruit enthusiast from California is on a mission just like the Spanish, to bring the infamous ‘Ajwa’ (the Prophet’s date) back to California.

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What inspired you to try to grow date palms?

Having lived in Silicon Valley for almost 25 years I have been able to see the development of so many different food cultivates from garlic and cherries to pistachios and almonds. My ancestry is rooted in mango and sugarcane farming in North India, which makes growing fruits a part of my DNA. I am a passionate gardener and have already grown many foreign fruits and plants here in California like loquats from England and henna plants from India; the climate makes it perfect for growing.

I grew up in Saudi Arabia and remember seeing pictures of my childhood spent on the date farms of Medina and Riyadh. My father used to take us to see this particular date tree (Ajwa date) that was considered sacred as it was from the times of the Prophet (PBUH), which unfortunately is not there anymore. On an Umrah trip with my father in 2013, we spent time discussing growing these Ajwa dates from seeds, and happened to visit a date shopkeeper who taught us about the history and how important California was for Medjool dates. I was inspired by this and decided to try and bring Ajwa dates back– which is something that (to my knowledge) hasn’t been done before.

What’s so special about ‘Ajwa Dates’?

Many strongly believe in the remedial therapy Ajwa dates provide as the Prophet (PBUH) advocated them and it is stated they are part of his medical practice. There are many quotes from the Prophet about the benefits of consuming them. Very few farms harvest this kind of date within the holy city of Medina, and I have heard of none outside this area, which is why I want to try and grow my own orchard of Ajwa date palms.

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How successful have you been so far?

Date palm growing is a lengthy process; so far I’ve grown around 100 plants, and as of last year they’ve grown to around two feet in height. The second batch of 60 seeds has just sprouted and will be sown this month. With the drought in California, it helps to know that the palms will still easily grow as they seek groundwater and need lots of heat.

What is your future plan?

I have a long way to go before I can see the actual Ajwa date, but the next step is to help landscape the local Mosque. Typical mosques built during the time of early Islam were surrounded by date palms and I want to help my local Masjid by having a small orchard of the Ajwa date palms surrounding the area.