In Muslim tradition the jujube is a symbol of the extent and limits of space and time. According to the Koran (53; 16), the Prophet Muhammad had a vision ‘near the Sirdah [jujube] tree, which marks the boundary... when the Sirdah-tree was covered with what covered it.’
This jujube tree has been the object of prolonged discussion by Muslim mystics. It is regarded as marking the frontier beyond which no living creature, not even one closely linked to God, may proceed. Tradition tells that Gabriel here took leave of the Prophet, merely giving him guidance as to how to continue on his way alone. Since jujube trees are sometimes the only living things on the face of the desert, one is perhaps here on the threshold of the desert of the Unknowable.
The mid-Sha’ban festival is linked to the tradition that the jujube tree which grows in Paradise bears as many leaves as there are human beings alive on Earth. On these leaves are said to be written the names of all these individuals, each leaf bearing the name of a person and those of his or her parents. They claim that during the night of 15 Sha’ban, a little after sunset, the tree is shaken and that when a person is fated to die during the coming year, the leaf which bears his or her name falls off. If that person is fated to die very soon, the leaf will be almost completely withered and only a tiny portion will remain green, the size of the green portion depending upon the length of time that person still has to live. A special form of prayer is used at this festival.
The jujube may also symbolize a means of defence against attack. Among some Moroccan tribes, when a male child is bom, the midwife immediately puts a jujube twig into his hand, so that he may grow up as dangerous as the thorns of that tree. Its thorns are also used against the evil eye and graves are sometimes covered with branches of this thorny shrub.
Traces of this tradition of the jujube as a symbol of defence may be found in Greek legend. Priapus was enamoured of the nymph Lotis and the more she rejected him the harder he pressed his suit. Having narrowly avoided rape she prayed to be turned into a thorny shrub with red flowers, believed to be the jujube.
In Europe, jujube berries were used for chest complaints, but Chinese Taoists regarded them as the food of immortality. The berry upon which the Immortals fed was, it must be admitted, of extraordinary size - as big as a gourd or water-melon. Jujubes were used as food after following a diet of gradual ‘abstinence from cereals’, being pre-eminently a pure and almost immaterial diet.