Image 1 of 10: This badge of pilgrimage pride, a 'souvenir' from the journey of a life-time, represents one of the most
faith-inspiring stories adhered to by Muslims. In spite of Saudi legislation banning its commercial export, the constant world demand ensures that the sale or supply of water alleged to be Zamzam continues outside the Kingdom.
Image 1 of 10: Islam holds that the Zamzam well was revealed to Hagar, wife to Abraham, mother of Ishmael, circa. 2000 BC.
What passed in a thirsty search for the 'life-giver' while stuck in desert conditions, leading to the discovery, resulted in the
laying down of rite of passage, or 'Hajj', circumscribed by crazed circling in search of water for her child.
Image 1 of 10: The name of the holy water is onomatopoeic for 'Zomë Zomë', meaning 'stop', a command repeated by Hagar during her startled attempt to contain the surge of spring water-- while a most welcome spectacle-- she feared was being wasted, after her desperate trek to find salvation. Originally, the rudimentary well was surrounded by a stone wall.
Image 1 of 10: It derives from a source outside Mecca of vague provenance to this day. Originally water from the well was drawn via ropes
& buckets, but today electric pumps do the job. The well lies encased in a basement room where it can be seen behind
glass panels (off limits). The well at 35 meters deep is now topped by a grand dome.
Image 1 of 10: The Zamzam well, excavated by hand, is about 30 m deep & 1.08 to 2.66 meters in diameter. Today the water is available
throughout the Masjid al-Haram via water fountains and dispensing containers near the
Tawaf area. The well at one time had two cisterns, one for drinking and one for ablution, and pilgrims still use it for this dual purpose.
Image 1 of 10: Post 9/11, restrictions have arisen for holy water consumption, transport & commerce, for its conservation as well as for public safety. Given airport security with its new-sprung suspicion toward liquid forms, it has become harder to convey Zamzam home to family & friends,
though pilgrims can still bring back small amounts from the Saudi.
Image 1 of 10: Health scare: In May 2011, a BBC London investigation found that Zamzam water marketed
as having been taken from the Zamzam Well contained high levels of nitrate, potentially harmful bacteria,
& arsenic at levels 3 times the legal limit in the UK. Arsenic is a carcinogen, raising concerns for Muslims
who regularly consume commercial Zamzam.
Image 1 of 10: This year's UK renewed campaign was not the first instance this topic has come under the watch of health & safety.
The British Food Standards Agency has issued warnings about water claiming to be Zamzam containing dangerous
levels of arsenic. Saudi authorities have stated that water from the well is tested daily in labs and found to be safe.
Image 1 of 10: The British-leaked scare has drawn mixed reactions from the Muslim community, though the issue was first brought
to Britain's authorities' attention by Muslim leaders. Authentic Zamzam cannot be legally exported from KSA for commercial sale,
so any product found in the shops bottled or in containers would make be a risky drink.
Image 1 of 10: The healer: Zamzam water lacking color or smell, has a distinct taste, with a pH of 7.9–8.0, so, alkaline, similar to seawater. It still retains
a utilitarian function close to its original life-saving value: it provides water to billions of people, who drink of its blessings, especially during Hajj. It's said to sate as well as quench-thirst.
Zamzam -- the Muslim faith's miracle Mekka Valley holy water is the Islamic answer to the Jordan Valley's Blessed Babtism water. This 'Muslim' water has had a long and more recently checkered story. It is associated with a special thirst-quenching experience, said to satisfy hunger appetite as well as to cure illness. Though more recently people are alleging that it might cause harm to the human body.
Regardless, the holy water's beneficient qualities are no secret. The emergence of the Zamzam water began the settlement of the Mekkan valley, where the descendants of Prophet Ishmail populated the area. This gave rise to a shrine worship and following that began as more idolatry, but then eventually came to represent a legitimate source of the Islamic tradition, once recovered from the mouth of paganism and restored to a pilgrimage point of focus for the faithful. It has, since this bygone era, served to quench the thirst of billions of pilgrims and natives to the region.
Mekka besides is located in a hot dry valley with few sources of water and scorching heat that render water an eternal relief. Muslims therefore consider the Zamzam well an ancient and still contemporary miracle, never having dried out despite the millions of liters of water consumed every year. The safety of sipping on water from the well has recently been debated in light of a BBC arsenic scare, originating in 2005.
A report from the British Food Standard Agency alleged that it were contaminated, polluted and very tainted by chemicals that were not fit for human consumption. Is it dare we suggest, in view of the findings, a carcinogenic? It's level of arsenic has been a source of concern specifically. However, hummous, the internationally loved chick-pea nutritious dip, is also known to contain arsenic, but in low safe permitted levels, and has so far not proved to be poisonous. Why not so with Zamzam?
Is this scare-mongering or scientifically-based valid concern for the quality of human life? In Britain's climate of Islamophobia, unfortunately such reports from respected sources, have been a senstive issue to broach with the Muslim community of 2.8 million members in the UK.
In spite of modern Western-concentrated security constraints on water crossing air-security, there is an exception made for pilgrims returning from Makka, who bring water of the Zamzam home for loved ones.
Otherwise, is it a blessing gone too commercial? Perhaps polluted by mass production and world distribution or maybe exhaustive consumption? Until today, it is predominantly a story endowed by the mystery and auro of water springing from the desert. It is a source of endless fascination, as well as an endless water supply, and more permanently, faith by its followers. The story or fable lives on with the living well of Zamzam.
Yet how has Zamzamit fared in the modern age of competion in the water (life-bestowing) industry? Does it retain the sacred properties in 2011 that it held for people who believed in its beneficial agents historically and before the proliferation of world Muslims. Do we still subscribe to its blessed life-promoting attributes? It is safe to say that no one minds the myth of water imbuing eternal life, for example, and 'magical'-like miracle-water or, in this case, Holy Water, is something a lot of the world will always have time for, Muslim or not.