Zamzam Water… More Than Water
According to Islamic tradition, the well of Zamzam was discovered by Hajar, the second wife of Ibrahim (Abraham), and the mother of Ismail (pbuh). 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.”
Characteristics of Zamzam
Location of Zamzam
Makkah 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!
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 Christianity, 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, 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Zamzam… Water and more
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 millions 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.