AL Mann(wa Salwa) in QURAN: A Scientific Study

And We gave you the shade of clouds and sent down to you manna and quails, saying: ‘‘Eat of the good things We have provided for you:’’ (But they rebelled); to Us they did no harm, but they harmed their own souls.

By Dr. M.I.H. Farooqi (Dr. Mohammed Iqtedar Husain Farooqi)                                             Scientist/Deputy Director (Retrd), National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow (Govt. of India)

Quranic NameAl-Mannاَلمَنّ

Common Names: Turanjabin, Kazanjbin, (Arab.), Turanjibin, Gazangbin (Pers.), Kudset helvasi (Turk.) Manna (Eng., Gr., It), Manne (Fr.), Manna (Russ.), Man (Heb.), Mana (Sp.), Kshiri (Hindi), Mena (Tam., Tel.) Manna (Mal.), Gazanjbin, Turanbjbin (Urdu). Makanandr Sorga (Indonesian., Malay)

Botanical Names :

1. Alhagi maurorum Medic. (Family:  Leguminosae) 

2. Tamarix mannifera (Ehrenb.)  Bunge (Family:  Tamaricaceae).

Quranic References:

1.  SURAH II (Al-Baqarah-the Heifer). V: 57

And We gave you the shade of clouds and sent down to you manna and quails, saying: ‘‘Eat of the good things We have provided for you:’’ (But they rebelled); to Us they did no harm, but they harmed their own souls.

2.  SURAH VII (Al-A’raf-The Heights). V: 160

We divided them into twelve Tribes or nations. We directed Moses by inspiration, when his (thirsty) people asked him for water: ‘‘Strike the rock with thy staff:’’ Out of it there gushed forth twelve springs: Each group knew its own place for water. We gave them the shade of clouds and sent down to them manna and quails. (Saying): ‘‘Eat of the good things we have provided for you’’ (But they rebelled); to Us they did no harm, but they harmed their own souls.

3.  SURAH XX (Ta-Ha-Mystic Letters T.H.). V: 80-81

O ye Children of Israel! We delivered you from your enemy, and We made a Covenant with you on the right side of Mount (Sinai) and We sent down to you manna and quails: (80) (Saying): ‘‘Eat of the good things We have provided for you sustenance, but commit no excess therein, lest My Wrath should justly descend on you: and those on whom descends My Wrath do perish indeed! (81)

Although the meaning of Al Mann (اَلمَنّ) in Arabic is ‘favor’ or ‘reward’, yet in general usage it means a heavenly saccharine food that God provided to the Children of Israel when they were wandering in the Sinai desert after their exile from Egypt.

Ibn Khatir in his commentary (Tafseer al-Quran al-’Azeem ) states that Ibn Abbas narrated that  the “ Sweet  Manna(اَلمَنّ)   used to descend ontrees and Children of Israel used to eat. The mannaused to rain down on the trees, just as the snow falls, from dawn until sunrise.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali (The Meaning of Glorious Quran, Dar Al Kitab Al Misri Cairo)) has stated that ‘Mann‘ (English, Manna) was a sweet gum obtained from the Tamarisk trees of Sinai (Note No. 71). In Lugat al-Qur’an (Darul Musanafeen, Delhi) ‘Mann’ is described as something like the Honey-Dew found deposited on leaves of certain trees and collected early in the morning. Several authors of the Commentaries of the Quran, like Qartabi (Tafseer Al Qartabi, 1987, Cairo), Tabari (Tafseer Al Tabri, 1969, Cairo), Kathir (Tafseer Al Quran Al Azeem 1980, Cairo), Abul Kalam Azad (Tarjumanul Quran), Thanvi (Bayanul Quran) Abdul Haque Haqqani (Tafseer e Haqqani) Maudoodi (Tafhimul Quran) Abdul Majid Daryabadi (Tafseer e Quran, Urdu , Lahore, English Lucknow) and Usmani (Tafseer e Quran, Bijnore) have described ‘Mann’ as a plant product but no one has ventured to identity the actual plant (Botanical) source. Of course, some of them have written that the present day Turanjbin  (a sweet exudate) was the real Mann. The main reason for this lack of information about the correct identify of the plant from which Mann was obtained, is probably the fact that no authentic scientific work was available earlier on the systematic botanical identification of the flora of various regions including Sinai.

Abu Rehan Mohammad Ibn Albairuni (973 A.D.-1050 A.D.) was probably the first person to indicate that the sweet Turanjabin (ترینجبین) obtained from the plant known as ‘Al-Haj’ (الحاج) in Arabic, was the real Mann of the Qur’an.

After Albairuni, for several centuries, not much progress was made to identify the plants and plant products of Middle East. It was only in 1822 A.D. that J.L. Burckhard, the author of the famous book ‘Travels in Syria and Holy Land’, stated that insects found on certain trees of Palestine and Syria were responsible for the production of a sweet gum.  According to Burckhard, who was also known as Sheikh Barkat in Egypt, these insects punctured the bark of the host plant through which a liquid oozed out during the intense heat of the sunny day and hardened into the form of a gum during the cool nights. Soon after the publication of the Burckhard’s Book, two well-known botanists of that time, Ehrenberg and Hemprich, published a report of their survey in 1829 and identified the Manna producing insect as Coccus manniparus. They had observed the production of Manna by these insects on Sinai trees, which they identified as Tamarix. Thus, by the middle of the nineteenth century, it became amply clear that Sinai trees did yield saccharine exudates. It was also reported that people living around Sinai collected Manna from the trees and used them in sweet preparations, As a matter of fact, for certain tribes of the area, these plant exudates were the only source of sweetness.

On the basis of scientific investigations carried out till now, it may be stated that the ‘Mann’ referred to in the Qur’an was in fact obtained from two different types of plants. One was the plant known as Al-haj or Aqul  (عاقول) in Arabic and botanically identified as Alhagi maurorum. It is a thorny shrub and is a good fodder for camel, and, therefore, called Shauk al-Jamal (Camel’s Thorn). In Persian it is known as Khare-Shutr. It does not normally grow beyond three feet in height but has very long roots, sometimes reaching fifteen to twenty feet deep in the ground. Camel’s Thorn is a perennial shrub that grows 2 to 3 feet tall. It is a native of the Mediterranean region and Western Asia.

Besides Sinai, Syria and other Arab countries, A. maurorum is also found in Iran, Pakistan and India, mainly on alkaline soils. At present Iran is the source of Manna called Turanjbin from this plant. In India, the plant is known as Jawasa, but the presence of Mann has never been reported from anywhere in the country, the reason being the absence of the insects responsible for the production of exudates.

Apart from ‘Haj’, which must have been a very common plant in Sinai during the time of Prophet Moses, there was another ‘Mann’ producing plant, botanically identified as Tamarix mannifera  (Arabic, Jaz) in the same region. Several other plant species belonging to the genus Tamarix are known as Athl or Tarfa (طرفا) in Arabic and occur in Arabia quite frequently but these do not yield any gummy (sweet) substance. The only Manna producing Tamarix i.e. T. mannifera is generally found in Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Since in Iran this plant is known as Gaz, its Mann is called Gazanjbin (Arabic, Kasanjbin (کزنجبین). Few species of Tamarix also occur in India but none of them have been reported to yield Mann.

Manna from Alhagi maurorum and Tamarix mannifera named Turanjbin and Gazanjbin respectively, are still traded in many parts of the world. Since sugars from sugarcane and sugar beet have been introduced throughout the world as the main sweetening agent, the use of sweet ‘Mann’ is now restricted to medicine only. Turanjbin is mostly supplied from the Khorasan area of Iran whereas the Tamarisk Manna (Gazanjbin) is still being collected in some northern parts of Africa. The sweetness of these Manna is due to sugars and sugar alcohols present in them. It has nutritional value as well as medicinal properties.

Al Mann has been mentioned thrice in the Qur’an, and in all these Verses, it has been referred to with Salva (سلوی) i.e. the bird Quail. These Verses clearly imply that a food consisting of a sweet carbohydrate (from Mann) as well as protein and fat (from Salva) was provided to Bani Israel (Children of Israel), and which by all standards was a balanced diet. Otherwise by eating only sweet Manna, so many of people (Bani Israel) could not sustain life for forty years (1491 B.C. to 1451 B.C.). The Quranic reference of ‘shade of clouds’ in SURAH ‘Araf and Ta-Ha is very significant and meaningful. This indicates that millions of trees, which provided Mann in sizeable amount for so many people, were not shady and the Almighty provided cloud shade to protect them from the scorching sun. It may be pointed out that Alhagi maurorum (Al-Haj) is a small shrub and hence cannot provide shade to human beings. Similarly, Tamarix mannifera is also a small tree with scaly leaves and hence not suitable for this purpose. Thus, these trees must have been occurring in large numbers in the areas of Sinai but were unfit to provide shade to Bani Israel during their wanderings. However, these plants in general, and A. maurorum in particular should have been very suitable shelter for the breeding and rearing of the birds i.e. Salva (quails) which were available to them in large numbers.

Manna has also been mentioned in the Bible eleven times but without reference to Salva. According to Moldenke (ُPlants of the Bible, Chronica Botanica Co., U.S.), it is very unlikely that the Children of Israel were provided with only sweet Manna for forty years. In his opinion, the Manna referred to in the ‘Book of Baruch” was definitely a sweet substance of plant origin but the Manna mentioned in ‘Book of Numbers’, was most likely a starchy or proteinous material, as it is stated therein that Manna ‘rained’ from Heaven and people collected it and made bread from it. Obviously bread cannot be made out of any sweet gum and, therefore, the Manna of ‘Numbers’ must have been some Lichen which, when fully dried, is very light and can be flown to long distances and can settle down (rain) at a certain place. Moldenke has cited the example of the Great Famine of Iran in 1854, when tonnes of the lichen, named Lecanora affinis (Syn. Lecanora esculenta) ‘rained’ over the famine area and people collected, powdered, and ate its bread for several days. They thanked the Almighty for His favor (Mann) of ‘raining’ lichen. Some Scientists have surveyed the area adjoining the Sahara of Africa and found that this particular lichen grows on rocks and produces fructifications in the form of pea-sized globules which are light enough to be blown about by the wind. This occurs there in abundance and the local tribal people eat its bread whenever there is famine or failure of agricultural crops.

While concluding the description of Bible’s Manna, Moldenke has very rightly inferred that two million people could not survive for years on sweet substances alone and it is also very unlikely that the Lichen and Algae were provided to them all through these years. He, therefore, states that most probably the Children of Israel were eating Quails along with Manna of any of the above-referred three descriptions. Had Moldenke studied the Sayings of the Qur’an about ‘al Mann and Salva‘, he would have reached this conclusion very easily. One must remember that although the provision of ‘al Mann and Salva‘ (Quail) has been very clearly described and explained in the Quranic Verses, yet none of them exclude the possibility of eating other types of food materials, like the lichen and algae, which the wandering men could find around.  As a matter of fact, in one HadithAlMann has also been defined as Al-Kam’a(الکماتھ) which is an Arabic equivalent of Truffle.  Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is reported to have said “Truffles are a kind of Al Mann, which Allah sent down upon the people of Israel, and their juice is a remedy for the eyes.”

What Prophet referred to as Al Kama was actually ‘Desert truffle’  a term used to refer to members of the genera Terfezia and Tirmania in the family Terfeziaceae,  which grow in arid and semi-arid areas of the Mediterranean region, the Arabian Peninsula, and North-Africa. Species of Terfezia and Tirmania prefer high pH calcareous soils, typical of desert soils. The most common species of the genus Tirmania are Tirmania nivea and T. pinoyi (syn. T. africana).  White truffle [Tirmania nivea] grows underground very fast until it bursts through and appears on the surface of the ground.

Desert truffles are nutritious, and particularly high in protein. In good seasons, truffles are dried and ground to powder to supplement the regular diet. Traditionally, desert truffles are cooked simply, so as not to mask their delicate aroma.

Al-Kamah or Kame is a classic Arabic word for the truffle although the common name is Al-Fag’a (الفاغع) which means bursting forth. This is because at late stages of truffle maturity, the soil surface above the fruiting body is cracked as a result of swelling of the Ascocarps. Desert truffles are known by several names in different countries. In Iran they are called Donbalan, in Turkey as Dobalan, in Algeria and Tunisia as Terfez, in Qatar and Kuwait as Fagga, in Saudi Arabia and Oman as al faq’h and zubaydi or khalasi, in Syria, and Libya as Terfase..

As reported by H.A. Bokhari & Sarwat Pervez, (J.Food Composition and Alalysis, 285-293,1993:, J. King Saud Univ.,137-148, 1994) most of the truffles (micorhizal fungi) collected from the Arabian desert and neighboring areas of the Arab Gulf belong to Terfezia.(Al-Kame-al-soudaAl-kame Al-Bunia).   Main desert areas for truffle production, closely resembling potatoes, are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.

It may be important to mention here that in Sematic language (from which Hebrew and Arabic originated), Mann means ‘what’ or ‘who’. Thus, in all probability when the Children of Israel saw the white substance around trees they simply wondered about it and asked each other ‘what (Mann) it was’? It is, therefore, most likely that all the new and strange edible substances which they encountered and obtained during their exile, were referred to as Mann  (Bible, Manna) by them.

In addition to Turanjbin (Alhagi Manna) and Gazanjbin (Tamarisk Manna) yielding plants, there are still other plant species that yield sweet gum, and all of them are termed in English as Manna. For instance, the famous plant of South Europe, Fraxinus ornus Linn (Family: Oleaceae), is a source of commercial Manna. Its main producing area in Sicily is called Gibelman which is a corruption of the Arabic name Jabal Mann (جبل المن) meaning the Hills of Manna. Some scientists have considered this Manna as another possible Manna of Bible.

Cotoneaster nummularia Fisch & Mey (Family: Rosaceae) is a plant occurring frequently in Iran, and is the source of a very sweet Manna called Shirkhisht (شیر خشت) which in Persian means the milk of stone; reflecting the fact that C. nummularia is a crawling plant in the rocky habitat and Manna exuded from the plant falls immediately on the ground giving a feeling that the rock on which it falls, has exuded it. It is also sometimes called Shirkhushk which means dried milk. Astragalus adscendens Boiss & Haussk. (Family:Leguminosae/Fabaceae)) is another source of Iranian Manna (114). Quercus incana Roxb. (Family: Fagaceae), occurring in Iran and Iraq, also yield good quality Manna. In India, Calotropis gigantea (Linn) R.Br. ex Ait. (Family: Asclepidiaceae), locally called ‘Aak‘() has been reported to produce Manna, called Sukuri Tighal(Wealth of India, Raw Materials, CSIR, New Delhi, 1976). Some people are of the opinion that the siliceous sweet substance, Tabashir (Hindi: Bans Lochan ), obtained from Bamboo is also Manna. The tree of Olive (Olea europaea) has also been reported to yield a type of Manna.

In Sinai, it is the honey-dew manna obtained from desert shrubs that receives most attention. Most Tamarisks, some Acacias, and even Camel Thorn produce exudates. The focus, however, is on the Tamarix mannifera (Arabic, Tarfa), also rendered T. gallica  (French tamarisk). The exudates production of all other shrub species is probably less than that of the Tarfa.

Walter reports (Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld-Manna of Sinai -1910) that most famous Manna (Tamarix and other plants) product of the Middle East is the Kurdish manna which is collected by the thousands of kilograms every year in June and July. It is used for the preparation of special confections which are sold in the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere under the name of mann. This manna is also produced all over the Kurd region in the extensive oak forest by an aphid. This plant louse sucks on oak leaves and copiously excretes a honeydew which solidifies with fragments of the leaves. This type of manna is composed principally of a rare polysaccharide trehlose.

There has been some confusion about the chemical nature of common gums and Manna. It may be stated that all the gums, like Gum-Arabic (Acacia senegal Willd., Family: Leguminosae) or Tragacanth (Astragalus gummifera Labill., Family: Leguminosae) are polymers of sugars and, therefore, bland in taste. These are chemically termed as complex polysaccharides. But the Manna contains different types of free sugars and sugar alcohols and, therefore, is always sweet. The sugars and their alcohols generally present in Manna are Glucose, Fructose, Melezitose, Dulcitol, Mannitol etc. Manna has a peculiar odor and a sweetish taste. It can be used in medicine as a gentle laxative. It is nutritive and a gentle tonic. It is still largely consumed in South America and was official in the United States Pharmacopoeia. Manna is usually prescribed with other purgatives, particularly senna, rhubarb, magnesia and the neutral salts, the taste of which it conceals while it adds to the purgative effect.

Under the name of Dulcinol, a mixture of Manna and common salt has been recommended by Steinberg in 1906 as a sweetening agent in diabetes.

The Codex of the British Pharmacopeia describes a Syrup of Manna to be prescribed as a mild laxative for children, in the proportion of 1 part of Manna to 10 of water.

Manna of the best quality dissolves in about 6 parts of water, forming a clear liquid. It has no bitterness or acridity.

Mannite, the crystalline constituent of sugary constituent of Manna was frequently prescribed in medicine instead of Manna itself.

Prophetic Sayings on Manna

1.   Narrated Sa’id bin Zaid (R), Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) said ‘‘The Kama (Truffle)) is like the mann (in that it is obtained without effort) and its water is a (medicine) cure for eye troubles-SahihAl-Bukhari.

2.   Narrated Sa’id bin Zaid (R)- ‘I heard Prophet (PBUH) saying ‘‘Truffles are like ( a type of ) manna (i.e. they grow naturally without man’s care) as their water heals eye disorders’-Book of Medicine-SahihAl-Bukhari.

3.   Narrated Sa’id bin Zaid (R)- The Prophet (PBUH) said ‘‘Kam’a (desert truffle) is a sort of Mann which God provided to Children of Israel. Its water is useful for eyes (Al Sunnan Ibn Majah).

4.   Narrated Abu Huraira (R). Once someone described Kam’a (mushroom/desert truffle) as a pox on earth but the Prophet (PUBH) said ‘‘It is a kind of Mann. (Tirmizi).

5.   Sa’id bin Zaid (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah saying, “Truffle (edible fungus) is a species of Al-Manna and their water cures eye diseases.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Note: Article is one of the Chapters of PLANTS OF QURAN, by Dr. M.I.H. Farooqi, 10th Edition, 2019, Sidrah Publishers, Lucknow. Preface by Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, Founder-Member, Rabita Al Alam Al Islami.

Valued Comments:

His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco

Dear Dr. Farooqi, I want you to know how impressed I am by your work—invaluable contributions to Islamic writings.

Dr. Mohammad Abdo Yamani, Chairman, IQRA International Educational Foundation, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: 

 ‘‘-Most impressive and interesting book. The book has really filled a gap that has been yawning for centuries-and in the most perfect way-useful and comprehensive informations-book shall remain and forever a unique attempt and a useful accomplishment.’’

Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, Rector, Darul-uloom Nadvat-ul-Ulema (Nadwa University) Lucknow, India Founder-Member, Rabita Al-Alam Al-Islami, Saudi Arabia:

Dr. Mohammed Iqtedar Husain Farooqi has fulfilled the need for a detailed scientific study of the plants of Quran so that new ideas and understanding of the plants and related events could be obtained.

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