Abdullah ibn Umar said:
We were with the Messenger of Allah when he asked, “Tell me about a tree that resembles the believer, the leaves of which do not fall in the summer nor the winter, and it yields its fruit at all times by the leave of its Lord.” I thought of the date palm tree, but felt shy to answer when I saw that Abu Bakr and Umar did not speak. And when they did not give an answer, the Messenger of Allah said, “It is the date palm tree.” When we departed, I said to [Umar], “My father, by Allah! I thought that it was the date tree.” He said, “Why did you not speak then?” I said, “I saw you were silent and I felt shy to say anything.” Umar said, “Had you said it, it would have been so precious to me.”
It is not unusual for generations of scholars to comment much on one statement from God’s final Messenger. The following is a very brief sample of what scholars have said about this one hadith.
(1) The Prophet taught people religion through a variety of ways. He encouraged people to ask questions and then he would answer them. At times, he cautioned his followers from asking too many questions that would ultimately burden them, specifically if the questions had legal (fiqhî) consequences, for Prophet’s words had the power of legislation—by Allah’s leave. Also, he would hear a conversation spoken in his presence and then either comment, correct, or praise what he heard. And he would often pose questions to his Companions, thus bringing the light of knowledge through means that are not taxing on the soul.
(2) The company the Prophet kept around him was diverse, including people of all ages. He would also make specific times to meet with the women of the community and encouraged and received their questions.
(3) Abdullah ibn Umar, a boy at the time, was shy to speak out of reverence for the elders around him. However, as his own father (Umar ibn al-Khattab) told him, Abdullah should have spoken up, for knowledge is not the property of any demographic of people, but rightly belongs to anyone who makes the effort to attain it—young, old, male, or female.
(4) The Prophet made an analogy between a believer and the date palm, which itself has evoked much comment: a) the date palm is a perennial plant, that is, it does not lose its leaves. Moreover, the date palm yields fruit throughout the year, through all seasons. The believer, then, is one who does not have seasons of goodness, but is a man or woman who constantly yields good thoughts, deeds, words, and moral practices. He or she is vigilant in worship, what is required and what is beyond that; b) a date palm darts out from the earth in a straight up fashion. It has no boughs, and its “branches” form a crown of sheathes on top of the tree that face the heavens. The believer is mustaqîm, that is, he or she is upon the straight path, with no deviation or distraction; and his or her crown is a ledger of deeds that go straight to heaven to the Throne of God; c) it is well known that everything about the date palm tree has utility. Its bark and pulp are used for building. Its broad fronds have been used to make paper, mats, and fans; as roofs for adobe homes, feed for livestock, and stuffing for cushions. The fibrous webbing of the tree is used for fishing nets. Its fruit is miraculous, loaded with carbohydrates that provide an enormous amount of nutrition in an inch or two of produce. For more than 6000 years the date was known as the “fruit of life,” a staple food cultivated in desert oasis. Now the believer applies all that he has been blessed with—health, wealth, and skills—for the sake of God, His religion, His worshippers, and for the sake of spreading good throughout the land. A scholarly believer is an oases to whom people go for spiritual and intellectual nutrition. A believer does not squander what is given to him in frivolous pursuits, and all that he or she does produces an impact far greater than one normally would expect; and d) like the date fruit, the deeds of a sincere patient believer are packed with effect, multiplied over and again by virtue of God’s mercy that He bestows only on those who make the choice to believe in Him sincerely and have that belief expressed in what they do and say every day. That is the honor of belief and the secret armament of the believer.
More date facts: The Prophet regularly broke his fast with dates; Maryam, the mother of Jesus, was told to eat dates after she had just given birth to her son, Jesus ; the “good tree” that that Quran likens to a “good word” is the date palm, according to Quran commentators; the extremely thin stringy filament (fatila) that lines the cleft of the date stone is used in an analogy, in which Allah says that He will not wrong anyone even by a measure of this fatila (quran, 4:49); the date palm originated either in the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula or in southern Iraq; there are more than 100 species of date palms; each year more than 500 thousand tons of date fruits are produced in Saudi Arabia alone, which has more than 14 million date palm trees; there are medicinal and nutritional values in the date that is starting to receive more scientific attention.