Allaah has made all living creatures out of water. People require water for almost everything; for agriculture, construction, transportation, and for cooling and heating. But not all water carries the same value and significance? Muslims refer to the water of Zamzam as something revered and unique. They crave this mysterious liquid and love to drink it whenever they can. And for those who managed to go to the Hajj, they return home carrying it for thousands of miles as a prized possession and to give as special gift to their friends and families.
So, what is so special about Zamzam water? In a word: Everything.
There is nothing ordinary about it. The miracle of how it came to being in the middle of the desert, its consistency throughout thousands of years, the beneficial qualities it has, the fact that it never dries up. This water is special.
The fact is, this small 5 ft. deep well is far away from any other source or body of water. It is self-replenishing. It is constantly replenishing itself in order to produce gallons upon gallons of water for consumption of thirsty pilgrims plus the additional amount that is bottled and also the amount that is taken as gifts distributed worldwide to millions. Zamzam water has scientifically been proven to contain healing qualities due to its higher content of Calcium and Magnesium Salts and also the natural fluorides that encompass a germicidal action.
It is also an established scientific fact that pools or water wells tend to grow vegetation such as algae—especially in warm climates. Amazingly this is not the case in the well of Zamzam. It has remained free from biological contaminants.
From the time that Hagar wandered aimlessly through the desert in search of sustenance for her son and herself; to the moment that Ismaa'eel kicked his tiny feet on the sand and the well of Zamzam was born out of the great Mercy of Allaah, Muslims have been drinking from it. What is more fascinating is that it has never once dried up. To Muslims this blessed water is special in significance and history.
A Lofty History
Ibn 'Abbaas narrated that the Prophet said: "When Ibraaheem (Abraham) had differences with his wife, (because of her jealousy of Haajar, Ismaa’eel’s (Ishmael) mother), he took Ismaa’eel and his mother and went away. They had a water-skin with them containing some water, Ismaa’eel's mother used to drink water from the water-skin so that her milk would increase for her child. When Ibraaheem reached Makkah, he made her sit under a tree and afterwards returned home. Ismaa’eel's mother followed him, and when they reached Kada, she called him from behind, `O Ibraaheem! To whom are you leaving us?' He replied, '(I am leaving you) to Allaah's (Care).' She said, 'I am satisfied to be with Allaah.' She returned to her place and started drinking water from the water-skin, and her milk increased for her child. When the water had all been used up, she said to herself, 'I would better go and look so that I may see somebody.' She ascended the hill of the Safaa and looked, hoping to see somebody, but in vain. When she came down to the valley, she ran till she reached the hill of the Marwah. She ran to and from (between the two hills) many times. Then she said to herself, 'I would better go and see the state of the child,' she went and found it in a state of one on the point of dying. She could not endure to watch her child dying and said (to herself), 'If I go and look, I may find somebody.' She went and ascended the hill of the Safaa and looked for a long while but could not see anybody. Thus she completed seven rounds (of running) between Safaa and Marwah. Again she said (to herself), 'I would better go back and see how the child is doing.' But all of a sudden she heard a voice, and she said to that strange voice, 'Help us if you can offer any help.' It was Gabriel (who had made the voice). Gabriel hit the earth with his heel like this (Ibn 'Abbaas hit the earth with his heel to illustrate it), and so the water gushed out. Ismaa’eel's mother was astonished and started digging ... She started drinking from the water and her milk increased for her child..." [Al-Bukhaari]
In another narration of Ibn 'Abbaas the Prophet said: "May Allaah be merciful to the mother of Ismaa’eel! If she had left the water of Zamzam (fountain) as it was, (without constructing a basin for keeping the water), it would have been a flowing stream. Jurhum (an ancient Arab tribe) came to Hagar and asked her, 'May we settle at your dwelling?' She said, 'Yes, but you have no right to possess the water.' They agreed." [Al-Bukhaari]
It was thus how the dry and barren valley of Makkah became inhabited.
The Archangel Gabriel unearthed the water of Zamzam such that the life of Ismaa’eel, the great grandfather of Prophet Muhammad maybe saved. Hagar, the wife of Ibraaheem the patriarch, restricted its flow and caused it to become a well. It is located next to the holiest of all holy places: the Ka'bah. Its water was the direct cause of Jurhum's settlement in Makkah, and hence the start of the Makkan era in the human history. No other water can claim this honor.
The Rebirth of Zamzam
With passage of time, the inhabitants of Makkah started to forego the ways of the pious ones. Jurhum, the core of the Makkan population, were driven out of Makkah when they became unjust and tyrannical. They, being fully aware of the importance of Zamzam, hideously plugged it to deny their conquerors its blessings. Zamzam was not reopened and henceforth was forgotten.
Many generations passed in Makkah with Zamzam in complete oblivion, until Abdul-Muttalib (the paternal grandfather of the Prophet ) resurrected the dead well. Abdul-Muttalib himself was oblivious to Zamzam. With the approaching of the last divine message, a sequence of significant preludes was in order; the rebirth of Zamzam was one.
It so happened that for three consecutive nights, Abdul-Muttalib had a very clear vision about digging a well. During each vision, the name of the well was different and no location was mentioned. On the fourth night, however, both Zamzam and its location were communicated to Abdul-Muttalib so clearly that he attended to the appointed task on the morning of the very fourth night.
To the utter disbelief of the Makkans who ridiculed the seemingly futile attempt at finding water in such an arid place, Abdul-Muttalib found water in an ancient buried well so close to the Ka'bah. And it was only natural that the Makkans claim a share in this, obviously, special well. Abdul-Muttalib gave no concessions and rejected any such claim.
The Makkans and Abdul-Muttalib's could not negotiate a middle ground, so both parties agreed to seek arbitration. They set out for a priestess whose judgment was accepted by both parties.
On their way, and while crossing the desert, the caravan ran out of water. The companions of Abdul-Muttalib all but gave up any hope of salvation. And when all seemed lost, water sprang out from the ever so small notch that Abdul-Muttalib's camel made with its pad. Upon seeing this, the Makkans knew that He who saved Abdul-Muttalib from this eminent death on this very journey to settle the very question of Zamzam, had made Abdul-Muttalib the sole heir to this special water. The matter was settled and the family of the Prophet was ennobled with a mark of clearest distinction.
It is of paramount importance to mention that Abdul-Muttalib's possession of Zamzam was not an act of ownership where he would deny its water to others. Being the sole heir to Zamzam meant that Abdul-Muttalib alone was to provide Zamzam water to the pilgrims; no one else (save his family of course) could partake in this most honorable privilege.
Venerable Even Before Islam
After the rebirth of Zamzam on the hands of Abdul-Muttalib, the Makkans accorded Zamzam the veneration it deserved. They used to drink from Zamzam whenever they were about to engage in matter of grave importance.
Al-Haarith Ibn Khaleefah As-Sa'di narrated that Quraysh always commenced their preparation to fend enemies by drinking from Zamzam. This was so customary that one could easily infer the gravity of matters from the collection of pots near Zamzam.
The Makkans realized that Zamzam was blessed water. They sought its blessing in matters of gravity, and many a times it was the difference.
The Location of the Well
The well is located only few paces from the Ka'bah, behind the Maqaam (the stepping stone which Ibraaheem used while building the Ka’bah) to the left. Its location is now clearly marked on the marbles of the Mataaf (the nearly circular open space where the pilgrims circumambulate around the Ka'bah). The well itself was lowered below the ground to facilitate the modernization of water extraction from the well, and to remove all obstacles from the path of Tawaaf.
It is worth mentioning that there are other wells named Zamzam after the original one. Such a well can be found, for example, in Madeenah.
The Names of Zamzam
Like any object of reverence, Zamzam commands both love and respect. In addition to the sublime nature and the loft history of this unique water, its attributes have originated its many names. Some of its names that are related to its sublimity are `blessing' and `blessed'. Another beautiful name is 'Bushra' which signifies glad tidings for the believers.
Its lofty history contributed to its many names, such as 'sanctified'. Another set of names derive from the fact that the Archangel Gabriel (Jibreel) unearthed the water, such as 'Hamzat Jibreel' and 'Wat'at Jibreel', with both names referring to the act of knocking the ground open by the Archangel.
Zamzam's attributes, however, account for most of its names. Some of these attributes were learned from teachings of the Prophet ; others were coined as descriptive names for physical and spiritual attributes of the water. These names include, for example, 'a cure for illness', and 'a food for hunger'. It is also called 'sufficient', 'beneficent', and 'pure and sweet'.
The Heavenly Connection
Ibn 'Abbaas related that when a man drowned in Zamzam much of the water was removed out of the well in order to retrieve the body. After removing the body, Ibn 'Abbaas told the man who was at the bottom of the well to collect water from the wellspring which flows from the direction of the Ka'bah. The source of this wellspring, said Ibn 'Abbaas is from Paradise. 'Abdullaah Ibn 'Amr corroborates the same reference to the heavenly connection. This gives Zamzam yet a further distinction whereby this earthly stream is mixed with water from Paradise. This is a most generous gift of Allaah.
A Clear Sign
Al-Masjid Al-Haraam (The Sacred Mosque in Makkah) is the first House of worship appointed for mankind. Along with this appointment, Allaah blessed this sacred place with many signs of distinction. Allaah Says (what means): "Verily, the first House (of worship) appointed for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), full of blessing, and a guidance for Al-'Aalameen (the mankind and jinn). In it are manifest signs (for example), the Maqaam (place) of Ibraaheem (Abraham); whosoever enters it, he attains security..." [Quran 3:96-97]
Zamzam is one of those signs. Chronologically it is the first, for when Ibraaheem, the Patriarch left his wife and infant son at the barren valley, following Allaah's command, he made a humble request: "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 salaah (prayer). So fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and (O Allaah) provide them with fruits so that they may give thanks." [Quran 14:37] Zamzam was the first among many fruits.
A Perpetual Water
One of the greatest attributes of Zamzam is that it will never dry up. This is a gift from Allaah to Makkah and to its pilgrims. Ibn 'Abbaas narrated that the Prophet said: "... May Allaah bestow his mercy upon her (Hagar, the mother of Ismaa’eel), had she let go (of the water of Zamzam) it would have become a spring (rather than a well) whose water shall never dry." [Ahmad]
Every year, millions upon millions of pilgrims drink Zamzam water, which has been around for thousands of years. It is fed daily to the Prophet's mosque in Madeenah in large quantities, and is packaged and shipped to millions of Muslims worldwide, without the slightest blemish in its flow. It is the epitome of munificence; the more we drink, the more it gives.
A Friend of the Believer
Ibn 'Abbaas narrated that the Prophet said: "One difference between us (believers) and the hypocrites is that they could not drink much from Zamzam." [Ibn Maajah]
A Muslim loves Zamzam and drinks it abundantly until he is full, whereas a hypocrite could not. This inability is caused by innate dislike to whatever the believers do in accordance with Allaah's wishes, which, in turn, causes the wretched one to forsake this divine gift for a mere mortal one.