LOS ANGELES – The table was laden with food: a rack of lamb, well roasted and succulent. A platter of chicken over rice. A tray of tabbouleh, a bulgur salad speckled with parsley. A rainbow of watermelon, orange slices and grapes.
But the first things guests reached for as they gathered at the Fejleh family's home to break fast together on a recent Tuesday night were shriveled fruits about the size of a thumb.
About 14 hours had passed without food or drink.
And what they wanted most of all were dates.
They reached across one another to get to the stars of the show, sectioned off with cardboard on a silver platter: deep black Safawi dates, crunchy Deglet Noor, soft creamy honey dates, Ajwa with their ties to the Prophet Muhammad. And the crown jewel, the sweet and sticky medjool.
"It's like the right amount of sweet to bring you back to life," said Aya Muhtaseb, who hails from the family of date farmers.
In 2020, COVID-19 forced mosques to close during Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. At a time when tens of thousands of people were dying and life was filled with uncertainty, Muslims could not break fast and pray together. Dates were a constant in every home.
After fasting from sunrise to sunset, Muslims turn first to the fruit, a practice believed followed by Muhammad, who is said to have broken his fast with three dates. On Twitter, some joke that it's the only month of the year where they have a date every night.
Even non-Muslim Latino date farmers have come to understand the significance of Ramadan, filling orders for dozens of boxes to be given to friends and family. It's estimated that 500,000 Muslims live in Southern California and 1 million in the state.
They can order dates from Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Morocco, but many get them from just down the road in the Southern California desert, where a town was renamed for Islam's holiest city, Mecca.