The Zamzam Well: a Historical Perspective
Since its water gushed forth as a token of Allah’s mercy towards the prophet Ishmael and his mother Hajar, the Well of Zamzam never ceased to provide water, except for very short periods, supplying successive generations with water described in the hadith as both nourishment and cure. Across the years Allah has sent righteous men whom he honored with serving and caring for the well. These include Abdulmuttalib Bin Hashim (the grandfather of the Prophet Muhammad – may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him), and in the Muslim period Abu Ja’far Al-Mansur, the Abbasid caliph Al-Mahdi and Al-Mu’tasim Billah, the Mamluk Sultan Qaitbay, the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, and, in modern times, the Saudi kings, starting with the late King Abdul Aziz bin Abdurrahman Al-Saud and his sons. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz was honored by Allah, to make a qualitative change in the methods of servicing the well by carrying out the King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Zamzam Water Project. So may Allah Almighty bless him and all those honored by serving it.
How Zamzam Came into Being
Abraham -may Allah’s peace be upon him- told his son Ishmael that he had been commanded to sacrifice him and that he must submit to Allah’s decree. Abraham said: “O my son! I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering you [offering you in sacrifice to Allah], so look what you think.” (Chapter 37, Al-Saffat, Verse 102) His son’s answer was an epitome of piety and faith that was to be immortalized and whose memory came to be celebrated as Eid Al-Adhha. He said: "O my father! Do that which you are commanded, Insha' Allah [if Allah will], you shall find me of As-Sabirun (the patient)." (Chapter 37, Al-Saffat,Verse 102) Abraham had left his newborn son with his mother Hajar in the middle of the scorching desert – in total submission to his Lord – leaving them to Allah’s care, as he was certain of their obedience too. He cried, “O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in an uncultivable valley by Your sacred House [the Ka'bah at Makkah], in order, O our Lord, that they may perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), so fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and, O Allâh, provide them with fruits so that they may give thanks.” (Chapter 14, Ibraheem, Verse 37). Accordingly, Hajar reciprocated Abraham’s submission and his faithfulness. She asked, “O Abraham! Where are you going and leaving us behind in this desolate valley, and not a human being around! … Has Allah ordered you to do so?” “Yes,” he answered. “Then He will not neglect us,” she continued. Allah did not neglect them. The Almighty sent an angel who, with his heel or wing, caused water to gush from the blessed Well of Zamzam. The Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him) said: “The best water on earth is Zamzam Water; it is food for the hungry and cure for the sick”. The Prophet also said: “It is blessed” and “Fever is a scent of hellfire; cool it with Zamzam water”, “The water of Zamzam is for whatever it is drunk for.” The original blessing of Zamzam was to provide water for the infant Ishmael and to help him and his mother survive. Years after the incident, Abraham -peace be upon him- built the first house appointed for mankind – Al-Ka’ba, just 20 meters from the well. Allah said: “Verily, the first house [of worship] appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), full of blessing, and a guidance for mankind and jinns [Al-'Alamîn]. In it are manfest signs [such as] the standing place of Abraham. And whoever enters it, attains security.” (Chapter 3, Al-Imran, Verses 96–97) With the glorified house, and the blessed well, the wasteland was rehabilitated, the desolate valley sprang to life, construction continued over the years and people’s hearts were filled with love for it and food was brought to it Allah Almighty answered Abraham’s prayers, and Abraham said: “O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in an uncultivable valley by Your sacred House [the Ka'bah at Makkah]; in order, O our Lord, that they may perform As-Salât (Iqâmat-as-Salât), so fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and, O Allâh, provide them with fruits so that they may give thanks.” (Sura 14, Ibraheem, 37) Allah said: “And [remember] when We made the House (the Ka'bah at Makkah) a place of resort for mankind and a place of safety. And take you [people] the Maqam [place] of Abraham [or the stone on which Abraham stood while he was building the Ka'bah as a place of prayer [for some of your prayers, such as two Rak'at after the Tawâf of the Ka'bah at Makkah], and We commanded Abraham and Ishmael that they should purify My House [the Ka'bah at Makkah] for those who are circumambulating it, or staying [I'tikâf], or bowing or prostrating themselves [there, in prayer].” (Sura 2, Al-Baqara, 125).
The Capping and Obliteration of Zamzam
For centuries the Well of Zamzam flowed not interrupted with or threatened by anything except shirk (polytheism), oppression and evil deeds as well as war between those who lived nearby. Allah Almighty said: “And when We decide to destroy a town [population], We [first] send a definite order [to obey Allah and be righteous] to those among them [or We [first] increase in number those of its population] who lead a life of luxury. Then, they transgress therein, and thus the word [of torment] is justified against it [them]. Then We destroy it [them] with complete destruction.” (Chapter 17, Al-Isra, Verse 16). This began with the Jorhom tribe, who asked Hajar’s permission to settle around Zamzam. The Prophet Ishmael married one of their womenfolk and had numerous offspring. The Khuza’a tribe, who settled around Makkah after the collapse of the Ma’rib Dam, subsequently contested Jorhom’s sovereignty and usurped their authority. The Jorhom left for Tihama but only after they had buried some of their weapons and gold around Zamzam to prevent the Khuza’a from benefiting from them and in the hope that they might return to Makkah to reclaim them. Historians mention that torrential rains and strong winds contributed to the obliteration of the location of Zamzam at that time.
A Divine Vision
Allah Almighty ordained that Zamzam would be rediscovered by Abdulmuttalib Bin Hashim as a glad tiding upon the birth of Muhammad Bin Abdullah (may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him), so that his noble mission would be fulfilled by curing the bodies and souls of mankind. Abdulmuttalib was vouchsafed a true vision about its location and ordered the excavation to begin. It is believed that while Abdulmuttalib was sleeping in the Hijr, he had a visitation and was told about the exact location of Zamzam. So he and his only son Al-Harith dug the well and took it upon themselves to provide pilgrims with drinking water. Zamzam drinking water flowed again, and over the years righteous people continued to improve access to it. Today, the Zamzam Water Project has been inaugurated at the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, following in the footsteps of Ishmael son of Abraham -may Allah’s peace be on them- in the hope that he will be among those associated with the blessed Well of Zamzam.
Names of Zamzam
Zamzam has over sixty names including, Zamam, Taybah, Barah, Maymounah, Suqya Aru’a, Siqayatu-l Haj, Rakdhatu Jibreel, Hazmatu Jibreel, Barakah, Mubarakah, Kafiyah, ‘Afiyah, Muathibah, Tahirah, Ghiyath, Al-Riwa'a and Riwa.
The Merits of Zamzam
The heart of Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him) was washed by Zamzam water after his chest was cut open. - It is the well from which the chosen prophets (Abraham, Ishmael, and Muhammad, may Allah’s peace be upon them) drank. - The hearts of the faithful will flock to it until the end of time. It is the only water on the face of the earth carried to the four corners of the world with love and pride. - Because of Zamam and because of the glorified House , the Ka'ba, Makkah developed into the Muslims’ holiest destination. - It is one of the biggest graces and benefits of the Hajj. - Allah Almighty says: “And proclaim to mankind the Hajj [pilgrimage]. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel; they will come from every deep and distant [wide] mountain highway [to perform Hajj].” (Sura 22, Al-Hajj, 27) - It is the best and holiest water in the world - Prophet Muhammad -may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him- said: “The best water on the face of the earth is Zamzam Water.” - It gushes from the world’s holiest site - It is interwoven with the Prophet's -may Allah's peace and blessing be upon him- blessed and honorable fluid from his mouth. "The Prophet washed his mouth with a bucket of Zamzam water and placed his ablution's water in the well. It had a better scent than musk." It is blessed, it is food that nourishes; therefore it is a perpetual sign until the end of time. - Prophet Muhammad -may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him- said: "The water of Zamzam is for whatever it is drunk for. It is nourishment and cure.”
Figures Associated with Zamzam
Abraham – May Allah's Peace be upon him-
Zamzam's first documented mention dates back 3420 years before the Prophet's Hijrah.
Ibraham -peace be upon him- migrated with his wife Hajar and his son Ishmael and left them at the site of Zamzam in obedience to Allah’s command. He prayed to Allah to give them sustenance. The first and most significant gift was Zamzam water.
3420 years before the Prophet's Hijrah.
Hajar was sure that her God would grant her request, but she worked hard for it, and Allah answered her prayers and caused water to gush out of the ground. She heaped sand around it so as to make a well. Had she not done so it would have become a spring. She was the one who called the well Zamzam.
Gabriel – May Allah's Peace be upon him-
Gabriel was sent by God to execute His will and save and care for Hajar and her son Ishmael. Allah Almighty answered Hajar’s prayers and provided help for her. The angel struck the earth with his heel (or wing) and there was Zamzam.
Ishmael – May Allah's Peace be upon him-
As a newborn, Ishmael let out a cry and Allah Almighty blessed him with water from Zamzam. Later, after he had helped his father build the Ka’ba, Ishmael took it upon himself to take care of the well and to provide pilgrims with drinking water.
The Qahtanite Tribe of Jorhom
The role of the Jorhom began a few years after the well was established and ended when Khuza’a took control of Makkah in the fifth century AD.
The Jorhom were good neighbors to Hajar and treated her well. Ishmael married among them and had children. For years the tribe had the honor of providing pilgrims with drinking water and building the sacred House. However, when their interest faded, Zamzam water dried up and ceased to flow, and eventually torrential rains effaced the site of the well completely.
Mudhadh Bin Amr Bin Al-Harith Al-Jorhomi
Mudhadh represented the last of the Jorhom’s presence in Makkah. (The end of the 5th century AD.)
He exhorted his tribe to stop committing sins in the neighborhood of the holy House, mistreating its visitors, and urged them rather to show fear of Allah.
The Yemeni Tribe of Khuza’a
In the 5th and 6th centuries.
This Yemeni tribe did not try to discover the whereabouts of Zamzam but dug other wells instead to recompensate for it.
Abdulmuttalib (Shaibah) Bin Hashim
Allah Almighty granted Abdulmuttalib, grandfather of the Prophet (after Ishmael and Hajar, may Allah’s peace be upon them) the honor of caring for Zamzam. With his son Al-Harith, Abdulmuttalib, having had a vision indicating the correct site of Zamzam, re-dug the well, restored it and put it at the service of Al-Ka’ba visitors.
Abraha Al-Ashram, King of Yemen
The People of the Elephant and their leader Abraha attempted to destroy the Ka’ba, but Allah destroyed them with the stones of hard clay.
Prophet Mohammad Bin Abdullah
In the eighth year of Hijrah
The Prophet Muhammad -peace and blessing of Allah be upon him- drank it and blessed it and made ablution and returned the water to the well.
Al-‘Abbas Bin Abdilmuttalib and his Grandsons
They were forty-two sons, thirty-six of whom became Abbasid caliphs.
The Prophet Muhammad -peace and blessing of Allah be upon him- conquered Makkah in the Year of Conquest, that is, in 631, when guardianship and the provision of water were entrusted to Othman Bin Abi Talha and Al-Abbas Bin Abdilmuttalib respectively. The Prophet held both the guardianship and the provision of water. Al-Abbas stood up and, stretching out his hand, said: “O Allah’s Messenger, you are dearer to me than my father and my mother, entrust me with guardianship in addition to providing drinking water.” “I gave you what you need; not what you give others as a favor.” the Prophet answered. Then the Prophet (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) stood between the pillars of the Ka’ba’s door and said: “All blood, wealth or merit that was favored during jahiliyah [the pre-Islamic period] are under my feet except providing pilgrims with drinking water and the guardianship of the Ka’ba. These I have entrusted to their previous trustees who used to do the job in jahiliyah.” Therefore, the right of Al-Abbas and of his sons to the Well of Zamzam was restored, and he met the cost with his own money. To honor him, Zamzam was called Ma’tharatu-l ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him).
Mu’awiya Bin Abi Sufian
(r. 661–679 AD)
Mu’awiya appointed servants to serve at the Holy House including at Zamzam. Other walis (governors) followed his example, right up to the present day.
Al Al-Abbas (of Makkah and Quraish), Bin ‘Abbas’ offspring
From the fall of the Abbasid caliphate in 1258 until today.
The descendants of Al-Abbas have continued to provide visitors to the Holy House with Zamzam water. Many of them provided pilgrims with drinking water with the help of non-local youth.
Abu Ja’far Al-Mansur
(r. 762–766 AD)
Al-Mansur provided Zamzam with meshwork, revetted it with marble, and tiled the floor.
He built a dome over the well to replace the old stone wall and the original construction.
(r. 770–776 AD)
Al-Mahdi renovated the Zamzam building and constructed a huge dome above the drinking chamber to replace the small one.
Al Mut’tasim further renovated the well and gave the dome a cladding of marble.
Omar Bin Faraj Al-Rakhji (during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mu’tasim Billah)
Al-Rakhji covered the ceiling of Zamzam chamber with gilded tiles, gave the exterior and the small dome mosaic cladding and added a small pavilion with lanterns to light the area during peak seasons. He gave the dome between Zamzam and the Drinking Chamber mosaic cladding.
Al-Nasser Al-Mamluki (Faraj Bin Barquq)
(22 June 1400)
He restored the dome after a fire broke out in the Holy Mosque that night.
Jamaluddin Mohammad Bin Abi Dhaheera (Makkah Judge)
This Makkah judge arranged for the rebuilding of the dome after it had become cracked and suffered from erosion.
He repaired the well and renovated the marble cladding.
The Ottoman Salim II
He repaired the well.
The Ottoman Sultan Ahmad
He renovated the dome.
The Ottoman Sultan Ahmad III
He renovated the dome.
The Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid I
He renovated the dome.
The Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II
He ordered the greatest construction project yet for the dome. It was executed by the architect Mohammad Sadeq.
His Majesty King Abdulaziz Bin Abdurrahman Al Saud
he ordered the building of the Zamzam Drinking Fountain
he ordered the building of a second fountain.
He ordered that the well be repaired, cleaned and covered.
King Abdul Aziz decreed that the Aghwat of the Holy Mosque of Makkah (the people in charge of providing visitors with drinking water at the time) “know best their job, therefore, they should be left alone with no intervention in their affairs.”
King Saud Bin Abduaziz
In the past, Zamzam water was drawn by pails and poured into an open container for people to drink using ladles attached to it. However, with an increasing number of pilgrims, and to protect against contamination, King Saud ordered that an umbrella be built and two tanks be installed outside the well. Each tank had twelve taps. In addition a centrifuge was installed into the well to pump the water.
A drinking chamber was built outside the well.
Orders were issued to expand the mataf (circumambulation area). The well was consequently transferred to a 2.7 m deep basement and the roof was used to expand the mataf itself. Thirty-nine taps were installed over 100.74 m2 of which 54.27 m2 and twenty taps were allocated for men and 46.47 m2 and nineteen taps for women. The Well Chamber was encased in an iron meshwork and the two water tanks were placed underground on both sides of the basement staircase.
King Faisal Bin Abdulaziz
A new basement was built.
King Khalid Bin Abdulaziz
• The entrance to the basement was moved to the eastern corridor to enlarge the mataf area.
• The first modern exploration of Zamzam was carried out.
• A massive cleaning operation was carried out using state-of-the-art equipment and expert divers. Work began in April 1979 and ended in June of that year. Large quantities of pots were removed from the well, including clay, leather, copper, and plastic objects, bottles, jars, funnels, iron and wooden pulleys, corroded coins of unknown dates, goat horns, knives, stones, and seals as well as large quantities of mud, sea shells, and leather and rubber pails. The walls, especially the plastered parts, were cleaned with metal brushes and dregs were collected and removed from the bottom of the well.
• As a result of this extensive cleaning operation, larger amounts of water gushed from the well and the water was made available in thermoses distributed across the Holy Haram.
King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz
(14 September 1988)
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ expansion project began. In addition to the drinking water and drainage system, the project included two 60-ton chilling units, drinking fountains and twelve pumps at the second level.
The Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) was established with Zamzam Studies and Research Center (ZSRC) as a subsidiary. SGS conducts in-depth research to solve the well’s problems.
Development and Construction
By adhering to Allah’s Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet, King Abdul Aziz and his sons have steered the country to security and stability. The great construction project the country is witnessing today is a living example of the projects initiated by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz: the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Zamzam Water Project that aims to realize the following worthy goals:
- Easing the pressure and congestion in the Haram area from trying to access Zamzam water
- Enabling pilgrims and visitors access to pure Zamzam Water in ease and comfort
- Maintaining hygienic conditions by enforcing strict and safe purification standards in bottling and distributing the water
- Allowing pilgrims and visitors access to pure Zamzam water by making it available in a convenient location such as Kudai and by providing it in containers of suitable size, form and specifications
- Preventing any negative repercussions on the well that may result from future repairs or expansion works that the Holy Haram may undergo by directing Zamzam water underground to Kudai in Makkah Al-Mukarramah 4.5 kilometers where The King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Zamzam Water Project is located from the Holy Haram of Makkah.