The Well of Zamzam

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The Well of Zamzam (or the Zamzam Well, or just Zamzam; Arabic: زمزم) is a well located within the Masjid al Haram in Mecca, near the Kaaba, the holiest place in Islam.


Muslims believe that the well was revealed to Hagar, the mother of Abraham's son Ishmael. (Abraham is known as Ibrahim to Muslims.) She was desperately seeking water for her infant son, but could find none. Mecca is located in a hot dry valley with few other sources of water. Muslim traditions say that Hagar ran seven times back and forth in the scorching heat between the two hills of Safa and Marwah, looking for water. God then sent the angel Gabriel, who scraped the ground, causing the spring to appear. On finding the spring, Hagar confined the pool of water with sand and stones. Other versions of the story say Ishmael scraped the ground with his heel and the ZamZam appeared.

The grandfather of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, Abdul Muttalib, is said to have rediscovered the well after it had been neglected and had filled with sand. He became the guardian of the well, charged with maintaining it and serving the Arabs who came to Mecca on pilgrimage (as was done even in pre-Islamic times).

Western academic historians doubt these stories, but do believe that the well might well have been important to the pre-Islamic inhabitants of Mecca, and perhaps one of the reasons that Mecca had become a pilgrimage site and trading center.

Zamzam today

The story of Hagar and the divine origin of the Zamzam well is commemorated in the Islamic rites of pilgrimage, the Umrah and the Hajj. Like Hagar, pilgrims run between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times.

Many Muslims believe that the water of the Zamzam well is divinely blessed (it is believed to satisfy both hunger and thirst, and cure illness) and make every effort to drink of this water during their pilgrimage. The water is served to the public through coolers stationed throughout the Masjid al Haram in Mecca and the Masjid al Nabawi in Medina. Pilgrims also fill water canisters from special taps, to take home as gifts for relatives and friends, and some of them also dip their pilgrimage clothes, ihram, in the water. The ihram are then preserved to serve as burial clothes when the pilgrim dies; thus he or she will go to the grave touched by the Zamzam water.

As the Muslim population of the world has grown, and air travel has made the Hajj more accessible to them, the Hajj is increasingly crowded. There can be up to four million pilgrims performing the Hajj. There is increasing concern that the Zamzam Well may not be able to provide enough water to satisfy all demands. The Saudi Geological Survey has set up a Zamzam Studies and Research Centre, which is charged with keeping the Zamzam water both hygienic and plentiful.

There have been some attempts to scientifically validate Muslim beliefs regarding the special nature of Zamzam water. The water is said to contain high levels of some minerals: calcium, magnesium, and fluoride.