Pluralism, Paradise and Palm Trees

PREFACE: I started writing about palm trees in relation to world religions. Which then spiraled into many other potential fun facts. To help streamline reading and the brevity of this post, I have used anecdotes to keep this post on its course. If you see an asterisk* scroll to bottom if you feel so inclined to be filled with knowledge.

When you think of Palm Trees, you likely think of coconuts, tropical drinks and turquoise waters. A reminder of a warm, happier place or what one could call paradise. Palm Trees might be in the background of your “skinny days” bikini pic, or in the vacation photo resting in your cubicle to help you escape the mundane tasks of adulthood.

Being lucky enough to live in West Palm Beach (1*), I see palm trees lining the roads along my drive to work, on my evening jog, and outside of my window as I watch the sunrise over Lake Worth. I guess my life is a little taste of a tropical vacation, especially on the weekends.


My Instagram Feed is splattered with palms and hibiscus {although, I feel like plural should be hibisc}. Every time I walk by either florae, I feel compelled to snap a photo to share the character of each plant that I am lucky enough to meet. When I look at Palm Trees, I don’t think of vacation, Florida, nor the city I live… but I see the answers to the world’s problems, to be specific the concept of pluralism. I know it sounds crazy {and maybe it is} but stay with me here as you read along.

another palm

Pluralism is a concept that differing religions and cultures can coexist and enthusiastically explore one another’s differing viewpoints. So take the word “diversity,” add in some effort, compassion and curiosity and what results is a multicultural community that symbiotically operates to build a unified community, yet preserve one’s own culture and customs.

Pluralism is what started my quest for multicultural education, especially since I live in area of high ethnic diversity. When I started reading about the symbolism of palm trees, this concept was tattooed in my brain and now every time I look at a palm tree pluralism comes to mind.

So why palm trees? Palm Trees have a deep rooted symbolism associated with victory, peace, paradise and eternal life. This dates back to the days of Ancient Egypt, where Mesopotamian religions saw the palm tree (aka Phoenix) as a symbol of immortality. In Ancient Greece, Olympians were rewarded for their victories with a palm trophy. By no coincidence all of the big three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, share similar symbolic themes of palms in its religious texts.

I explain further, starting with Christianity as I was raised Catholic. My first interaction with a frond was during Palm Sunday, the mass that takes place exactly one week before Easter. I can recall from a very young age, running my little fingers through its fringes to distract me from the homily. I loved watching the older women weave them into crosses and roses in the pews.

Palm Sunday reenacts when Jesus was returning to Jerusalem the Sunday prior to his crucifixion on Good Friday. He was welcomed with people cheering waving palm fronds, causing the “powers that be” to raise their eyebrows about this man causing such a ruckus.

I would like to just break down the significance of this event by comparing it to modern times. Today, the Kardashian Family puts out a Twitter blast that they will be at the local mall. Fans apply their Kylie Lip Kit, make a neon poster and race to their arrival in hopes to snap a selfie with one of the famous sisters. Back in 33 AD, Jesus did not have a Twitter account. Maybe Jesus just looked at Matthew and said “Hey you want to go to Jerusalem next week?” and Matthew was like “Yeah they have a nice market at the temple, I could use a new pair of sandals.” Then word spread like wildfire until it reached Jerusalem and people were like “Jesus is coming. Find some fronds! We have GOT TO be there when he pulls in on his donkey.”

Jesus’ entry so significant, that some texts say “the city was moved.” I imagine this magnitude of people jumping and waving around palm fronds similar to when the University of Wisconsin football fans shake the stadium during the 4th quarter ritual of dancing to “Jump Around”(2*). Jesus, was a rock star, and people were pumped to see him, so much that the disruption that this caused ultimately lead to his crucifixion.

In Judaism, the date palm stands as one of the Four Species on the festival of Sukkot, when it is unified with a citron, willow and myrtle. There are two schools of thought on the Four Species: 1) to unify the four types of Jews in service to God, or 2) to unify the four parts of the body identified as the spine, eye, mouth, and heart. Either meaning relate to the Jewish service to God. The date palm’s Hebrew name is lulav, representing the spine. The lulav is said to have a taste, but no scent which represents Jews that study the Torah but do not possess its good deeds.

In Islam, palm trees are highly associated with paradise and gifts from Allah. For example, palm trees occupy the perimeter of an oasis, which signifies that water is a gift from Allah. Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus under a date palm in the Qur’an (3*). There is also an Arabic saying “Fog El Nakhal” which translates to “above the palm trees” referring to paradise in the afterlife. It would make a great saying for tattoo {Although many Muslims do not believe it is within their faith to get a tattoo, so maybe that explains why I haven’t seen it tattooed on anybody quite yet}.

Palm Trees often offer individuals salvation in religious and even secular ways. This can be realized as you look at that pretty palm tree on your work screensaver to motivate you toward a family Caribbean vacation. That palm tree may take your mind of irritating coworkers. It can motivate you to find a paradise outside of your current reality. I know after an exhausting day, I go for a jog down Flagler Drive just to chase palm trees that are lined up like toy soldiers. It clears my mind, and it calms me.

So in my view, palm trees symbolize pluralism, paradise, victory, and unity. To me, it’s uplifting when I analyze how the three religions that have been at war since the Muhammad all value my favorite tree. It’s made me realize how much the big 3 faiths have in common, and wonder what else I could share with people that I perceive to be different from me.

So I challenge you, next time you feel irritated with somebody, just try to find a common ground. Start with “Hey, palm trees are pretty rad, right?” You may find that your personal antipode might be much more familiar.

Chase palm trees, my friends! And as always, live global and stay local.


Anecdotes and Fun Facts

1. Palm Beach actually gets its name because it’s lined with these long legged trees, to be specific the Coconut Palm. Palm trees are not native to South Florida, but floated on over to Palm Beach in the late 1800s when a ship, “Providencia,” was transporting coconuts from Havana to Barcelona had washed ashore on Palm Beach. Palm Beach pioneers had taken the coconuts and planted them in an effort to create a commercial coconut industry. Instead of a coconut farm, what was created was a posh paradise made famous by Henry Flagler.

2. Fun Fact: The University of Wisconsin tried to stop this tradition because the “fanquake” was a concern for the structural integrity of the Camp Randall Stadium. So when people say “there’s no way scientific way that Jesus could make an earthquake,” then I challenge you to attend a college football game. People can indeed make the earth move, and for certain House of Pain did.

3. You may be thinking, “Whoa, wait! You’re talking about Mary and Jesus? You’re supposed to be talking about Islam in this paragraph.” Well as a matter of fact, Mary is mentioned more times in the Qur’an than in the New Testament. Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an, and described as “the greatest of all women,” for her pure conception of the prophet Jesus. I also learned that Jesus is mentioned more times in the Qur’an than Muhammad himself.


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