What’s In Our Name
Olives (zaytunah) are second only to figs in Berg’s table of purifying foods. Unlike other fruits, olives must be treated by human hands in order to become palatable food. The process of curing olives has long been used as a metaphor for the maturing of the human heart. Olive oil is one of the most ancient of all oils and has been used for millennia by all the Mediterranean peoples to light lamps, treat skin, and nourish bodies.
The Blessed Olive Tree
The olive tree is remarkable as well, with an extraordinary underground root system that can extend over twenty feet, enabling it to draw water from deep within the earth and produce olives continuously for hundreds of years. The olive tree has always been considered a blessed tree by the three great Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Adherents of all three religions have traditionally used its wood to make prayer beads, and there are numerous references to the olive in their sacred texts. In the Torah, in the book of Deuteronomy, the Prophet Moses عليه السلام describes Palestine as a “good land, a land of olives.” The book of Genesis says that, after the Flood, a dove brought an olive branch to the Prophet Noah عليه السلام as a sign that land was near. According to the Psalms, a man’s children are like “the slips of olive trees.” The Prophet Jesus عليه السلام also made references to the olive tree. The Qur’an says,
God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The likeness of His light is as of a niche with a lamp inside; the lamp is in a glass; the glass is as a shining star, lit from a blessed olive tree, neither of the East nor of the West, its oil nearly luminous even without fire touching it. Light upon light: God guides to His light whomever He wills; [This lamp] is in houses that God has allowed to be raised, wherein His name is remembered. They glorify Him in them in the mornings and the evenings. There are men whom neither business nor commerce can divert from remembrance of God, and persistence in prayer, and giving of alms, fearing a day when hearts and eyes will be transformed. (24:35–37)
God swears an oath by the olive, saying, “By the fig and the olive, and by Mount Sinai, and by this secure city, surely, We have made man in the finest order” (Qur’an 95:1–4). The Prophet Muhammad عليه السلام said, “Anoint yourselves with olive oil because it comes from a blessed tree.” In his book on the qualities of the Prophet عليه السلام, Imam Tirmidhi mentions that it was reported that the Prophet عليه السلام used so much olive oil that his shawl was often saturated with it.
Reviving the tradition of sound Islamic teaching institutions
One of the greatest universities in the history of Islam, Jami’ah al-Zaytunah in Tunis, provided intellectual and spiritual oil that illuminated Africa for over a thousand years. Ibn ‘Arafah, Imam Maziri, and countless other great scholars taught there, preserving the knowledge and sciences of Islam. Taking its name from this venerable tradition, Zaytuna College seeks to revive the tradition of sound Islamic teaching institutions.
“I view the Zaytuna approach as trying to increase knowledge [and] Islamic education. Having authentic, traditional shaykhs who have a continuous transmission from the past and learning from them—that is a most excellent idea.”
Dr. Khalid Blankinship
Professor, Temple University