Old Zamzam well cover, Circa 13th century

INTRO

What is Zamzam water?
According to Islamic tradition, the well of zamzam was discovered by Hajar, the second wife of Ibrahim (Abraham), and the mother of Ismail (pbut). It began when Hajar and infant Ismail were left in desert between the hills of Safa and Marwah all alone by Abraham. Allah (swt) commanded Abraham to leave them there to test his faith in Him. With the day getting hotter as time went by, Ismail became thirsty and he began to cry. Having brought nothing with her, Hajar panicked. She went back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah seven times looking for water. On the seventh trip, all of sudden water came out of the underground. The water kept flowing and Hajar said :”Zome zome”, meaning "stop flowing" and thus the water was named Zamzam.

Ibn Abbas reported that Prophet Muhammad once said: “The water of Zamzam is good for whatever one intends (while drinking it). If you drink it seeking health, Allah will give you healing. If you drink it to satisfy your hunger, Allah will satisfy your hunger. If you drink it to quench your thirst, Allah will quench your thirst. Zamzam is a well dug by the angel Jibreel by which Allah quenched the thirst of Ismail.”

THE HISTORY OF ZAMZAM WELL

The Migration of Ibrahim with Hajar and Ismail (as).
According to the story told by the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and narrated by Ibn Abbas (ra):
Allah commanded Prophet Ibrahim (as) to leave his second wife, Hajar and their newly born son, Ismail, alone in an uninhabited, barren valley. They walked until they reached the desert of the Arabian peninsula and came to a valley having no fruit, no trees, no food and no water; the valley had no sign of life.
Hajar followed Ibrahim saying: "O Ibrahim! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we may enjoy, nor is there anything (to enjoy)?" She repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her. Then she asked him: "Has Allah ordered you to do so?" He said: "Yes". She said: "Then He will not neglect us." and she returned (to her child) while Ibrahim proceeded on his way, where Ibrahim (as) faced the Kaaba, and raising both hands, invoked Allah saying the following prayer:"O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Thy Sacred House; in order, O our Lord, that they may establish regular Prayer: so fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them, and feed them with fruits: so that they may give thanks." "Our Lord! Lo! I have settled some of my posterity in an uncultivable valley near unto Thy holy House, our Lord! that they may establish proper worship; so incline some hearts of men that they may yearn toward them, and provide Thou them with fruits in order that they may be thankful" (Quran 14:37) -

The Spring of Zam-Zam and the course of Safa wal-Marwa
When Hajar’s provisions finished, she found that the mountain of Safa was the nearest mountain to her. She stood on it and started looking for help. Then she descended from Safa, crossed the valley and reached the Marwa mountain where she stood and started looking for help again, expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She kept on running between Safa and Marwa seven times.
After Hajar reached Marwa for the last time, she heard a voice and then saw water flowing from that place. She started to make something like a basin around it, and started filling her water-skin with water with her hands, and the water was flowing out after she had scooped some of it.

The position of Safa and Marwa relative to Kaaba

Zamzam Brings life to the valley of Mecca
Hajar heard Angel Gabriel saying to her: "Don't be afraid of being neglected, for this is the House of Allah which will be built by this boy and his father, and Allah never neglects His people." She lived there until some people from the tribe of Jurhum passed by her and her child and asked her: "Do you allow us to stay with you?" She replied: 'Yes, but you will have no right to possess the water." They agreed to that. Hajar was a smart merchant as she granted visiting caravans some water in exchange for some goods that the caravan brought. For this reason, the ancient Mecca became a commercial hub in the Arab Peninsula region.


The construction of Kaaba
Years later, Ibrahim came to visit his son Ismail. While Ibrahim was there, Allah instructed him to build a building of worship for him. Then, Both Ibrahim and Ismail built a building that is now called Kaaba.
"And when Abraham and Ishmael were raising the foundations of the House, (Abraham prayed): Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower" (Quran 2:127) -
"And (remember) when We prepared for Abraham the place of the (holy) House, saying: Ascribe thou no thing as partner unto Me, and purify My House for those who make the round (thereof) and those who stand and those who bow and make prostration" (Quran 22:26) -
Everyday, Ibrahim and Ismail worshipped Allah towards Kaaba [1]. They also preach their faith In Allah to the visiting caravans. Some people converted and they stayed there so they could worship towards Kaaba. The population of the settlement grew as more people came and stayed.

Model of early days of Kaaba (black cube in the center), its inhabitants and their houses.

Mecca also happened to be the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad. Allah instructed Prophet Muhammad to make Kaaba the center of the universe for all Muslims.
"We have seen the turning of thy face to heaven (for guidance, O Muhammad). And now verily We shall make thee turn (in prayer) toward a qiblah which is dear to thee. So turn thy face toward the Inviolable Place of Worship, and ye (O Muslims), wheresoever ye may be, turn your faces when ye pray) toward it. Lo! those who have received the Scripture know that (this Revelation) is the Truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do" (Quran 2:144) -
"Allah hath appointed the Ka'bah, the Sacred House, a standard for mankind, and the Sacred Month and the offerings and the garlands. That is so that ye may know that Allah knoweth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth, and that Allah is Knower of all things" (Quran 5:97) -

The Rediscovery of Zamzam Water
The inhabitants of Makka area started to deviate from the pious way of life and the Jurhum tribe was driven away from Makkah. The people of the Jurhum tribe plugged the Zamzam well so that the remaining Makka inhabitants couldn’t receive the blessing of Zamzam water. As time went by, the existence of Zamzam well was forgotten for many generations, until the grandfather of Prophet Muhammad, Abu-muttalib, received divine message regarding the location of Zamzam well. For three nights, Abu-muttalib had visions of digging the well and the next night, the location of the Zamzam well was revealed to him. He rediscovered the Zamzam water in the ancient well and proved the Makkans who doubted him wrong [2]. Those Makkans tried to claim the Zamzam water afterward but Abu-Muttalib denied them. Conflict was born from this and a priest had to be the intermediary. While crossing the desert, the caravan ran out of water and the Makkans felt despair. However, water sprung out from small notch that Abu-Mutallib’s camel made. Seeing this, the Makkans knew right away that Abu-Muttalib was the rightful proprietor of the Zamzam well. With this recognition, only Abu-Muttalib and his family could provide Zamzam water to the pilgrims. Some version says that it was Abu-Muttalib himself who dug the water while on the way to Syria to see the wise man. The caravan that brought the people who were in dispute with Abu-Muttalib denied Abu-Muttalib and his companions water when they ran out of water. Thinking he would surely die, Abu-Muttalib dug his own grave. However, he thought it would be better to look for water than to wait for his own death, and so he started digging. He found a source of water and the other caravan, out of water now, begged Abu-Muttalib for some water. Abu-Muttalib allowed them to have some water and seeing his kindness, the Makkans conceded that Abu-Muttalib discovering water was proof that Abu-Muttalib was the rightful custodian of the Zamzam well [3].

The wall of Zamzam well

Audio of History of Zamzam

Different names of Zamzam

Zamzam is known by many different names, some denotes its characteristics, others its location or its history. This is a comprehensive but not a complete list of the names. Among its names:
Zamzam, zamamu, Zumzmu, zumazmu
Maktumah (kept secret), Madhnunah, Shaba'h (source of feeling satiety), Suqya, Al-Rawaa (giver of water), Shifa Saqam (curer of disease), Twa'amu Tu'm (Food), Birra (The good), Sharab al-abrar (the drink of the righteous), Ta'am al-Abrar (the food of the righteous), Tayba (Good/delicious)
Hafirat (the hole by) Abdul Muttalib, Hazmetul (what have been dug by) Jibreel, Hazmatul Malik (What have been dug by a king), Hazmat (hole in the ground), Rakhat (hole in the ground) Jibreel

Zamzam well Since the time of the Prophet (pbuh)
The dome of Zamzam received several repairs and restorations in the course of time. The most important of these repairs are the following:
-The Sacred Mosque was restored in the Mamluk era during the reign of Sultan An-Nassir Faraj Ibn Barquq after fire erupted in the Sacred Mosque in the night of 28 Shawwal, 802 AH (June 30, 1400 AD.)
-The dome of Zamzam was also restored in the year 815 AH (1413 AD)at the hands of the Judge of Makkah Jamal Ad-Din Muhammad Ibn Abu Dhahirah.
-In the era of Sultan Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf ad-Din Qa'it Bay, the Well of Zamzam was restored and its marbles were replaced in 884 AH (1479 AD).
-In the Ottoman era, the Sacred Mosque received great interest and several repairs were made to the building of Zamzam especially during the reign of Sultan Salim II, 973-981 AH (1566-1574 AD).
-The dome of Zamzam was also restored in the era of Sultan Ahmad IV, 1083 AH (1600 AD). Then, the building of Zamzam was restored in the era of Sultan `Abd Al-Hamid I, 1187 AH and once again in 1203 AH (1773 -1877 AD).
-Then, during the era of Sultan `Abd Al-Hamid the Second 1300 AH (1882 AD). These works were made by the engineer As-Said Muhammad Sadiq.
-Eventually, during the modern era, the building of Zamzam was reconstructed but away from its original location since the old building that was located near the Ka`bah used to hinder Tawaf in the modern age because of the large number of the pilgrims. The water of Zamzam was conducted to its new location in the eastern part of the Sanctuary by way of engines for lifting water and pipes. There became an assigned place for men and another for women.

Development of Mecca over time

Zamzam water in other religions
As for the Christians’ version of the origin of zamzam well, it began with the story of Abraham trying to have a heir with Sarah. God had promised Abraham that He would give him a heir with Sarah, but after 10 years, there was still no child. Sarah then told Abraham to take Hagar as his second wife so he could finally have a heir. From this marriage, Hagar became pregnant with Ishmael (Isma’il). However a few years later, Sarah became pregnant with Isaac. Sarah then asked Abraham to send Ishmael away since she wanted Isaac to become the only heir to Abraham. God then told Abraham to listen to her. According to the Christian lore, Abraham left Hagar and Ishmael in Beersheba (somewhere in modern-day Israel) instead of Mecca. There’s also discrepancy in the Christian lore, as it was said that Sarah became pregnant when Ishmael was 13 years old, yet when Abraham left him in Beersheba, Ishmael was an infant. Also, in this version, Hagar hid behind bush so she didn’t have to watch Ishmael die. However, God told her to open her eyes, and then zamzam water began to spring. In the Bible, there’s a foreshadow of zamzam well. The following passage is part of Genesis 21:

1 And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken.
2 For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.
4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.
5 And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.
6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.
7 And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.
8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.
10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.
11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.
12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.
16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.
17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.
18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.
19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.
21 And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.

How to drink Zamzam water

Of course, there is no special way of drinking Zamzam water. However, there is certain etiquette followed when upon consuming Zamzam water.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) whenever he used to drink Zamzam water, he used to say “O Allah! Grant me beneficial knowledge, an abundant provision, and a healing from every disease.”

While Zakariyyah Al-Ansaari used to face the Qiblah and say (before he drinks), 'O Allah, I learned that Your Messenger, Peace be upon him, said, 'Zamzam water is for whatever it is drunk for.' O Allah, I am drinking it for such and such. O Allah, respond to my supplication.' Then he says Bismillah (In the Name of Allah) and drinks.”

Ibn Qudaamah used to say after drinking Zamzam water "O Allah! Make it for us a beneficial knowledge, an abundant provision, a quench for our thirst, food to satiate us, a healing from every disease, and wash my heart with it, and fill it [my heart] with Your fear and wisdom.'”

Characteristics of Zamzam

Location of Zamzam
Mecca is a mountainous area with adequate ground structure to hold water and create aquifers. It rarely rains in Mecca and the aquifers depend on occasional rainstorm to recharge their water supply. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia established Zamzam Studies and Research Center (ZSRC) part of Saudi Geological Survey to study and monitor Zamzam water supply. The Center determines the water threshold so that the supply is not too depleted. The organization also studies the demand of the water and only authorize the water to be pumped when that demand is really high. The ZSRC monitors the quality of zamzam water chemically and microbiologically. A datalogger, which electronically records data, was installed near the well to check the pH, temperature, and water level of the well. Before the datalogger exists, the water was tested using a simple drum hydrograph. As the visitors to Mecca increases, as does the demand of zamzam water. Currently, there’s about 15 million people visiting Mecca annually.

The well of zamzam is located within Wadi Ibrahim alluvium. The well is about 30.5 meter deep and it was hand-dug and has 2.66 meter internal diameter. The circumference of the opening is about 1.8 meter.

The well pumps up to 18.5 liters per second. In 2010, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz launched a project to build the Zamzam Water Treatment and Filtration station. The station is located 4.5 km away from Al-Masjid Al-Haram. From it 120 tons of Zamzam water is transported on a daily basis to the tanks at Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah!

Location of Zamzam well on the mataf

Location of Zamzam well relative to Kaaba and other Pilgrimage sites

The simulation of Wadi Ibrahim Alluvium

Zamzam water chemical composition
Since the prophet’s time, every pilgrim to Mecca drinks from the water of Zamzam. No doubt that this is a ritual that connects all Muslims regardless of their race, color, and year they performed pilgrimage. That act makes Zamzam water one of the unifying threads of Muslims alike. Therefore it is not uncommon for people to praise this water and to bring samples to their home country to share Zamzam with their loved ones.

Interestingly, there is a widespread of stories of people claiming cure from various illnesses after drinking Zamzam water. Unfortunately, to date, no peer reviewed medical study has been published assessing the medical properties of Zamzam water. Certainly, the placebo effect can’t be ruled out for the claimed medical property of Zamzam water, as similar claims are mentioned about Holy water in Christinaity, the Lourdes water, etc.... Nevertheless, there has been few studies about the chemical composition of Zamzam water. In 2011, BBC reported that zamzam water in the UK is toxic due to high arsenic levels. Interestingly, Zamzam water is not legally sold outside of Saudi Arabia and the authenticity of the water could not be verified. According to a study by Basem Shomar [4], the arsenic content in zamzam water is almost three times more than the standards set by World Health Organization. He surmised that it's not certain whether the arsenic content is originated from the water or from the well's surrounding. Arsenic can be found naturally in earth crust rock and soil and it therefore can be released into groundwater. However, a separate study done by Al-Barakah et.al. found that the arsenic content of zamzam water is within the safe limit set by WHO. Interestingly, the levels of Lithium were elevated. In addition, other report by Wafa Frigui determined that Arsenic levels of the water were below WHO standards. Table 1 is a summary of her findings on Zamzam water chemical composition [5].

Zamzam water comes from underground and underground water has high concentration of natural radionuclides such as uranium, thorium , and radium. The following graph shows the comparison between Zamzam water radionuclides concentration and the standard sets by the experts.

As seen on Table 2, the content of uranium, thorium, and radium in zamzam water is higher than the standard set by WHO. Despite the radiological characteristics of zamzam water, one study found that zamzam water actually helps heal cancer. This study found that the consumption of zamzam water actually reduces colon cancer in mice [2]. It is crucial to note that reported toxic effects of radionucleotides in water are at levels 100 times higher than Zamzam water and for consumption that extends for decades [6].

Zamzam water as a thirst quencher
Zamzam water is slightly alkaline and elements found in zamzam water like Ca2+ and K+ can have healing properties. Calcium is the major divalent cation and often complexed with carbonates and bicarbonates in zamzam water. The high amount of calcium in zamzam water can be useful in quenching thirst and hunger. According to the Islamic tradition, zamzam water does remove hunger away (Ibn Abbas). Many people drank zamzam water to satisfy their hunger. According to to study conducted by Khalid et.al., they found that zamzam water contains high concentration of carbohydrates and proteins compared to other well water.

Graph 1. Carbohydrates, Proteins and Lipid concentration of Zamzam water.

Based on the graph above, the carbohydrate in zamzam water is significantly higher than the one in well water. This graph proves that it’s not placebo that people do not feel hungry anymore after drinking zamzam water. The nutrients in zamzam water can also be proven by observing the growth of plants watered with zamzam water. According to Mineral Composition and Health Functionality of Zamzam Water: A Review, one Egyptian group conducted a research on the effects of water types on growth parameters of wheat and broad beans. The study found that the percentage of flowers of the broad beans watered with zamzam water was considerably higher than the ones watered with tap water and treated water [6].

Zamzam... more than water

For more than billion Muslim, Zamzam water is more than a drink to quench their thirst. Zamzam water is a thread that connects every person who drinks it to prophet Muhammad (pbuh), his great-great grandfather Ibrahim, Ismail, and Hajar (ra).
Water is the essence of life and Zamzam is the prime example of how water brings life and million of Pilgrims to one of the most arid regions of the world seeking His mercy. Zamzam is the story of God's mercy to his believers.

Bibliography

[1] Shaybī Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Zayn al-ʻĀbidīn, and Ṣiddīqī Raʼūf. History of Kaʼaba: a Unique Research on the History of Kaʼaba. Elite Publishers, 2009.
[2] Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. Islamic Texts Society, 2007.
[3]Zamzam Water: History and Significance.” Gulf-Times, 9 Aug. 2018, desktop.gulf-times.com/story/602312/Zamzam-water-history-and-significance.
[4] Shomar, Basem. Zamzam Water: Concentration of Trace Elements and Other Characteristics. Elsevier, 2011, pp. 600–605, Zamzam Water: Concentration of Trace Elements and Other Characteristics.
[5] Frigui, Waifa. Miracle of Water. Taibah University, 2017, pp. 41, Miracle of Water.
[6] Nauman Khalid, Asif Ahmad, Sumera Khalid, Anwaar Ahmed & Muhammad Irfan (2014) Mineral Composition and Health Functionality of Zamzam Water: A Review, International Journal of Food Properties, 17:3, 661-677

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