History of the well
According to IslamOnline, the well originally had two cisterns in the first era, one for drinking and one for ablution. At that time, it was a simple well surrounded by a fence of stones. Then in the era of the Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur 771 AD (149 AH) a dome was built above the well, and it was tiled with marble.
In 775 AD (153 AH), Al-Mahdi rebuilt the well during his caliphate, and built a dome of teak which was covered with mosaic. One small dome covered the well, and a larger dome covered the room for the pilgrims. In 835 AD (213 AH) there was further restoration, and the dome was covered with marble during the caliphate of Al-Mu’tasim.
In 1417 (795 AH), during the time of the Mamluks, the mosque was damaged by fire, and required restoration. Further restoration occurred in 1430 (808 AH), and again in 1499 (877 AH) during the time of Sultan Qaitbay, when the marble was replaced.
In modern times, the most extensive restoration took place to the dome during the era of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1915 (1333 AH). To facilitate crowd control, the building housing the Zamzam was moved away from its original location, to get it out of the way of the Tawaf, when millions of pilgrims would circumambulate the Kaaba. The water of the well is now pumped to the eastern part of the mosque, where it was made available in separate locations for men and women.
The Zamzam well was excavated by hand, and is about 30 m (98 ft) deep and 1.08 to 2.66 m (3 ft 7 in to 8 ft 9 in) in diameter. It taps groundwater from the wadi alluvium and some from the bedrock. Originally water from the well was drawn via ropes and buckets, but today the well itself is in a basement room where it can be seen behind glass panels (visitors are not allowed to enter). Electric pumps draw the water, which is available throughout the Masjid al-Haram via water fountains and dispensing containers near the Tawaf area.
Hydrogeologically, the well is in the Wadi Ibrahim (Valley of Abraham).
The upper half of the well is in the sandy alluvium of the valley, lined with stone masonry except for the top 1-metre (3 ft 3 in) which has a concrete “collar”. The lower half is in the bedrock. Between the alluvium and the bedrock is a 1⁄2-metre (1 ft 8 in) section of permeable weathered rock, lined with stone, and it is this section that provides the main water entry into the well. Water in the well comes from absorbed rainfall in the Wadi Ibrahim, as well as run-off from the local hills. Since the area has become more and more settled, water from absorbed rainfall on the Wadi Ibrahim has decreased.
The Saudi Geological Survey has a “Zamzam Studies and Research Centre” which analyses the technical properties of the well in detail. Water levels were monitored by hydrograph, which in more recent times has changed to a digital monitoring system that tracks the water level, electric conductivity, pH, Eh, and temperature. All of this information is made continuously available via the Internet. Other wells throughout the valley have also been established, some with digital recorders, to monitor the response of the local aquifer system.
The water level is 3.23 m (10.6 ft) below the surface. A pumping test at 8,000 litres per second (280 cu ft/s) for more than a 24 hour period showed a drop in water level from 3.23 m (10.6 ft) below surface to 12.72 m (41.7 ft) and then to 13.39 m (43.9 ft), after which the water level stopped receding. When pumping stopped, the water level recovered to 3.9 m (13 ft) below surface only 11 minutes later. This data shows that the aquifer feeding the well seems to recharge from rock fractures in neighbouring mountains around Mecca.
Zamzam water has no colour or smell, but it has a distinct taste, and its pH is 7.9–8.0, indicating that it is alkaline to some extent and is similar to seawater.
Minerals Mass concentration as reported by researchers at King Saud University.
Sodium 133 mg/L (4.8×10−6 lb/cu in)
Calcium 96 mg/L (3.5×10−6 lb/cu in)
Magnesium 38.88 mg/L (1.405×10−6 lb/cu in)
Potassium 43.3 mg/L (1.56×10−6 lb/cu in)
Bicarbonate 195.4 mg/L (7.06×10−6 lb/cu in)
Chloride 163.3 mg/L (5.90×10−6 lb/cu in)
Fluoride 0.72 mg/L (2.6×10−8 lb/cu in)
Nitrate 124.8 mg/L (4.51×10−6 lb/cu in)
Sulfate 124.0 mg/L (4.48×10−6 lb/cu in)
Total dissolve alkalinity 835 mg/L (3.02×10−5 lb/cu in)
Health risks controversy and illegal sale news
In May 2011, a BBC London investigation found that water marketed as having been taken from the Zamzam Well contained high levels of nitrate, potentially harmful bacteria, and arsenic at levels three times the legal limit in the UK. Arsenic is a carcinogen, raising concerns that Muslims who regularly consume commercial Zamzam water in large quantities may be exposed to higher risks of cancer.
The British Food Standards Agency has in the past issued warnings about water claiming to be from the Zamzam Well containing dangerous levels of arsenic; such sales have also been reported in the UAE, where it is illegal to sell Zamzam. The Saudi government has prohibited the commercial export of Zamzam water from the kingdom.However, there is a strong commercial demand for Zamzam which has resulted in continued commercial distribution of water alleged to be Zamzam.
Later in that month the Council of British Hajjis stated that drinking Zamzam water was safe and refuted the BBC report. They also went on to point out that the Government of Saudi Arabia does not allow the export of Zamzam water for resale. Also stating that it was unknown if the water being sold in the UK was genuine, people should not buy it and report the sellers to the Trading Standards.
The BBC’s findings have drawn mixed reactions from the Muslim community.
Environmental health officer Dr Yunes Ramadan Teinaz told the British broadcaster about commercially marketed Zamzam water that, “People see this water as a holy water. They find it difficult to accept that it is contaminated, but the authorities in Saudi Arabia or in the U.K. must take action. The Saudi authorities have stated that water from the well was tested by the Group Laboratories of CARSO-LSEHL in Lyon, licensed by the French Ministry of Health for the testing of drinking water.
According to reports of these results, the level of arsenic in Zamzam water taken at its source is much lower than the maximum amount permitted by the World Health Organization. The Saudi authorities have thus said that the water is fit for human consumption. Zuhair Nawab, president of the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS), has claimed that the Zamzam Well is tested on a daily basis, in a process involving the taking of three samples from the well. These are said to be examined in the King Abdullah Zamzam Water Distribution Center in Mecca, which is equipped with very advanced and state of the art facilities.
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