Jack Of All Trades
A compilation on the amazing well Zamzam
The Zamzam well located some 20 metres (66 feet) east of the Kaaba within the area of the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, has been a wonder of the world for the past nearly 4,500 years. Hydrologists believe the rechargeable well will remain alive giving out billions of litres of pure mineral water for the ages to come.
According to Islamic religion, the well was created miraculously by the grace of Almighty Allah to quench the acute thirst of baby Ismail, the son of Prophet Ibrahim, who had left the baby along with its mother Bibi Hajara in the desert, after a divine order revealed on the prophet. It is said that when Bibi Hajara was running between the Safa and Marwa hills in search of water, the thirsty baby Ismail was crying and simultaneously hitting the stony ground with his soft tiny heels. Frustrated Bibi Hajara upon return empty handed, was amazed to see water coming out from the ground under the feet of her baby.
The area around the spring, which was later converted to a well, became a resting place for caravans, and eventually grew into the trading city of Mecca, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him- pbuh). The well is still alive satisfying millions of pilgrims who visit the Kaaba for performing Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages. The well 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. The name of the well comes from the phrase Zom� Zom�, meaning 'stop flowing', a command repeated by Bibi Hajara during her attempt to contain the water of the amazing well.
According to Islamic tradition, Prophet Ibrahim, later returned to Bibi Hajara and Ismail and rebuilt the Bayt Allah ("House of God") near the site of the well, a building which had been originally constructed by Hazrat Adam, the father of the mankind. The house is now called Kaaba, a building toward which Muslims around the world face to say prayer, five times each day.
The Zamzam well was originally excavated manually and it taps groundwater from the alluvium valley and some from the bedrock. In the primitive age 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. Now visitors are not allowed to enter the basement room. Electric pumps draw the water, which is available throughout the Masjid al-Haram via water fountains and dispensing containers near the Tawaf area.
Hydro-geologically, 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 metre (3 ft) 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 by people, water from absorbed rainfall on the Wadi Ibrahim has decreased.
The Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) has a Zamzam Studies and Research Centre (ZSRC) 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 and temperature. All of this information is made continuously available through the Internet. Other wells throughout the valley have also been established, some with digital recorders, to monitor the response of the local aquifer system.
Zamzam water is colourless and odourless, but has a distinct taste, with a pH (hydrogen ion) of 7.5-7.7, and so is slightly alkaline. According to the Saudi authorities the water is fit for human consumption. Zuhair Nawab, President of the 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 advanced facilities.
It remains a common question how Zamzam water was never depleted over the ages.
As per the scientific explanation of this phenomenon, Sharaqi, a professor of geology and water resources at the African Research Institute said that, "non-depletion in geology means that it is renewable water. Ground water can be renewable, such as that in Zamzam's well, or non-renewable."
"Zamzam's water is renewable water. The source of water comes from the rain in Mecca. Mecca is a mountainous area and so one of the valleys contains the valley of Ibrahim that holds Zamzam's well in a low-land area," said Sharaqi. The professor explained that there are 14 meters of river deposits caused by rainwater on mountains that fall into the lowlands and turn into sediment. This process took millions of years to create the 14-metre well of Zamzam.
At the very bottom, there are rocks that gather causing the well to have a total depth of 35 metres, 14 metres of sediment and 21 metres inside the rocks.
With the rainfall and storage process, water is renewed. "Water in Zamzam well is used as the pilgrims' drinking water and drinking water is not used at a rate like, for example, water for agriculture," said the professor. The geology professor expressed that Egypt has wells similar to that of Zamzam that can store and take in water, making it renewable.
"Zamzam well has been used for nearly 4,500 years, this makes us think that if there will be no rain in Saudi Arabia, the water will be depleted. However, considering that climate conditions are stable and unchanging, the well can continue as it is," he said.
This subject, although coming from Islamic background, also has scientific and logical explanations that perfectly add up to the religious stories.
In order to manage demand, water from Zamzam well is pumped, treated, and stored in underground storage tanks on a continual basis. Before distribution to consumers and transportation to Madinah Zamzam water is treated by a series of sand filters, micro filters and ultraviolet disinfection. ZSRC is engaged in design of upgrading the treatment system. Already, two phases of upgrading have been completed and the third phase is in active consideration. Moreover, the Center strictly follows these activities and ensures strict quality assurance measures.
All visitors carry Zamzam water back home usually in plastic containers of 10 or 20 liters size, which they fill themselves from several filling points, situated around the Al-Haram and at a central filling station.
A threshold water level in the well is maintained. If the water level goes below this level the pumping is stopped, water level is allowed to recover, and then pumping is resumed. The annual discharge from the well is restricted to around 500,000 cubic metres. However, this limit can be modified if hydrological condition so permit.
The author is Business Editor,
The Daily Observer