Delving into a Ramadan tradition – the significance of dates and odd numbers

As Ramadan comes to an end, Muslims all over the world find themselves excited to celebrate Eid but also a bit mournful as the holy month leaves until next year.  

In addition to the many traditions involved in Ramadan and the celebration that follows,  I wanted to dive deeper into one specific tradition. During the month of Ramadan, it is a frequent practice to break one’s fast by first eating a date and then eating your meal. When looking at why it’s this particular fruit, we go back to teachings found by the Prophet Muhammad who said: “When one of you is fasting, he should break his fast with dates; if he cannot get any, then (he should break his fast) with water, for water is purifying.”  

Researchers state that dates are promoted in Islam especially during Ramadan because they are high in sugar and vitamins such as potassium and magnesium, providing nutrients that are needed after not eating for an extended amount of time.  

According to The Spruce Eats, “Dates are easily digested, making them a quick source of energy and nutrients. Eating dates after a long day of fasting can help the body’s blood glucose levels quickly return to normal. When not fasting, consumption of dates before a meal will satisfy the sensation of hunger, which in turn helps to avoid overeating.”  

Dates are mentioned more than 20 times in the Holy Quran, and historians have speculated that the fruit of knowledge that Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden was a date. Dates have many historical ties in the Arabic world as well as Islam. It’s also part of tradition to eat the dates in odd numbers, up to three in one sitting. This is related to not overeating as well as the significance of odd numbers in Islam.  

Many acts of worship in Islam are done in odd numbers. For example, praying is done no more than 5 times a day, 3 parts included in certain prayers, and circulating 7 times around the Kabbah during Hajj (the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca). Odd numbers are seen all throughout the Quran, holding a huge significance in Islamic religion.  

Researchers state that writings in the Quran emphasize odd numbers to stress Allah in his oneness as a higher power. According to, “Allah the Almighty created many of his great creations in odd numbers such as the heavens, earths, and seas. It is also said that its meaning refers to those who sincerely worship Allah the Almighty alone and believe in his oneness.”  

This relates back to the food we eat and how we eat it. Aspects of the Quran play out in our everyday lives. Although there is no scientific data backing up the health benefits of eating dates or any foods in odd numbers, it’s become like most things, a tradition. In these traditions there is a bond with who we are spiritually and how we are meant to promote health and wellbeing.