Drinking Zamzam Water and its Health Risks

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This article discusses the drinking of Zamzam water and the possible health risks involved.


The Well of Zamzam is a well located within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 20 meters (66 feet) east of the Ka'aba,[1] the holiest place in Islam. The well is 35 meters deep and topped by an elegant dome.[2]

Millions of Muslims visit the well each year while performing the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages, in order to drink its water and, in many cases, to take home some of its water for distribution among friends and relations.[2]


Pre-Islamic History

Safa and Marwa are two mounts located in Mecca. Tawaf, the circumambulation between Safa and Marwa, was once a pagan ritual[3] now associated with Islam, the Zamzam well, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Islamic beliefs in regards to its history is expounded upon by the Saudi Geological Survey website:

According to Arab historians, the Zamzam Well, except for a few periods when it became dry or was buried under sand, has been in use for around 4000 years. The well marks the site of a spring that, miraculously , had issued forth from a barren and desolate wadi (non perennial stream) where the Prophet Ibrahim (Peace be upon him-pbuh), under Allah's command, had left his wife Hajar and their infant son Ismail (pbuh). In her desperate search for water, Hajar ran seven times back and forth in the scorching heat between the two hills of Safa and Marwa to provide water for Ismail (pbuh), who was dying of thirst. Allah, in His mercy, sent the Angel Gabriel, who scraped the ground, causing the spring to appear. On finding the spring, and fearing that it might run out of water, Hajar enclosed it in sand and stones. The name Zamzam originates from the phrase Zomë Zomë, meaning ‘stop flowing’, a command repeated by Hajar during her attempt to contain the spring water. 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 Makkah, birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).[1]

Miraculous Status Within Islam

Not only do Muslims consider the well to be miraculous, but also the water which it pumps. Several hadith narrations have been recorded concerning this.

One of the miracles of ZamZam water is its ability to satisfy both thirst and hunger. One of the Companions of the Prophet said that before Islam, the water was called 'shabbaa'ah' or satisfying. It was filling and helped them nourish their families. More recently, in the last few decades, samples of ZamZam water have been collected by scientists and they have found certain peculiarities that make the water healthier, like a higher level of calcium.

Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) said it has healing effects. This is why pilgrims to Makkah to this day collect it in bottles, to bring back for relatives and friends back home who are ill.

It is also reported also that the Prophet rubbed the gums of his two grandchildren - Hassan and Hussain - with dates and ZamZam. It was also reported that the Prophet used to carry the water of ZamZam in pitchers and water skins back to Madinnah.

He used to sprinkle it over the sick and make them drink it.

In some Hadith, it has been reported that the water of ZamZam has healing effects. In one Hadith it is said: Narrated by Jabir that the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) said: "Water of ZamZam is good for whatever purpose it has been drunk. In another Hadith the Prophet said "Water of ZamZam is a healer of every disease. Muslims throughout the world do believe that the water is blessed and accordingly it is considered as one of the best gift to be offered.[2]

Muslim Claims Regarding the Science

As with urine, milk, and alcohol, Muslims often make claims of their religious beliefs being backed by science.

Four senior experts of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission have found the water of ZamZam well to be scientifically superior to tap or solar pump water. The experts have analysed and tested samples of water from ZamZam and from tap and solar pumps.

It was found that the ZamZam water has a curative effect.

Alkaline in nature, the ZamZam water can neutralise excess hydrochloric acid formed in the stomach and reduces heartburn.

Iodide, sulphate and nitrate contents are also much higher in the ZamZam water. Supply of iodide through ZamZam may sufficiently fulfil the requirement of iodide for the thyroid organ of a body. The research was carried out jointly by M. A. Khan, A. K. M. Sheriff, K. M. Idris and M. Alamgir.

It was revealed that contents of macro-nutrients like magnesium, sodium and potassium were manifold higher in ZamZam water than in tap and solar pump water.

The scientists said all the data indicated that ZamZam water had much more nutritive values than ordinary underground water.

The hardness of ZamZam water is four times that of tap and solar pump water but it is within the acceptable limit set by the WHO, the researchers found.[2]


Arsenic Poisoning

Arsenic poisoning is caused by increased levels of the element arsenic in the body. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include headaches, confusion, sleepiness, convulsions, vomiting, diarrhea, kidney, liver and lung problems, and can even result in coma or death.[4][5]

Arsenicosis is the effect of arsenic poisoning, usually over a long period such as from 5 to 20 years. Drinking arsenic-rich water over a long period results in various health effects including skin problems (such as colour changes on the skin, and hard patches on the palms and soles of the feet), skin cancer, cancers of the bladder, kidney and lung, and diseases of the blood vessels of the legs and feet, and possibly also diabetes, high blood pressure and reproductive disorders.[6]

The World Health Organization state that a level of 0.01 mg/L poses a risk of 6 in 10000 chance of lifetime skin cancer risk and contends that this level of risk is acceptable.[7]

Fluoride and Other Naturally Occuring Elements

Fluoride is found naturally in low concentration in drinking water and foods.[8] In these small naturally occuring amounts fluoride is beneficial, and the fluoridation of water is known to prevent tooth decay.[9]

Similarly, iron is a naturally occurring element within food,[10] and not enough iron in our diet can cause iron deficiency anemia, the most common form of anemia worldwide.[11]

On the other hand, arsenic is a toxic element that has no apparent beneficial health effects for humans regardless of the quantity consumed.[6]

Arsenic and Zamzam

In October 2005, the British Food Standards Agency issued warnings against "fraudulent" Zamzam water being commercially sold which contained dangerous levels of arsenic (over three times the legal limit recommended by the World Health Organization).

The Food Standards Agency is advising consumers to be aware of the fraudulent sale of Zam Zam water that may contain high levels of arsenic. This issue was first brought to the Agency's attention by Muslim leaders.

Zam Zam water, which is sacred to Muslims, comes from a specific source in Saudi Arabia and cannot legally be exported from the country for commercial sale.

A brand of Zam Zam formally sampled by the London Borough of Westminster has been found to contain almost three times the permitted level of arsenic, which could contribute to increasing people's risk of cancer.

The local authority has taken action to prevent further sale of the product from the outlet.

In addition they have contacted the importer of the water to ensure that they stop importing the product. No other outlets are known to have stocked this product.

Other brands of Zam Zam water are thought to be on sale in the UK and could be similarly contaminated.

As genuine Zam Zam water cannot be legally exported from Saudi Arabia for commercial sale, any product found in the shops would have an uncertain provenance and pose a possible safety risk.[12]

However, in May 2011, a BBC investigation found that, like the "fraudulent" Zamzam water being sold in 2005, genuine Zamzam water taken from the well also contained arsenic levels three times the legal limit.

In addition to the dangerous arsenic levels, the holy water contained high levels of nitrate and potentially harmful bacteria.

[Samples from taps which were linked to the Zam Zam well and bottles on sale in Mecca] showed high levels of nitrate and potentially harmful bacteria, and traces of arsenic at three times the permitted maximum level, just like the illegal water which was purchased in the UK.

Dr Yunes Ramadan Teinaz, an environmental health officer who has previously warned about Zam Zam water, said it was "a sensitive matter".

"People see this water as a holy water," he added.

"They find it difficult to accept that it is contaminated but the authorities in Saudi Arabia or in the UK must take action," he said.[13]

The BBC were also told that there are Muslims in the UK who drink nothing but Zamzam water.[13]


Millions of Muslims drink Zamzam water every year. There is little doubt that many thousand, where possible, drink this water regularly and/or have fed their children and other loved-ones with it, thereby putting themselves and others at risk of the effects of arsenicosis, which includes cancer.

This page is featured in the core article, Islam and Science which serves as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about this topic Core part.png

See Also

  • Zamzam - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Zamzam
  • Drinks - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Drinks

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Zamzam Studies and Research Centre - The Saudi Geological Survey Website
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 S. H. A. Careem - The miracle of ZamZam - Sunday Observer, January 30, 2005
  3. "Narrated 'Asim: I asked Anas bin Malik: "Did you use to dislike to perform Tawaf between Safa and Marwa?" He said, "Yes, as it was of the ceremonies of the days of the Pre-lslamic period of ignorance, till Allah revealed: 'Verily! (The two mountains) As-Safa and Al-Marwa are among the symbols of Allah. It is therefore no sin for him who performs the pilgrimage to the Ka'ba, or performs 'Umra, to perform Tawaf between them.' " (2.158)" - Sahih Bukhari 2:26:710
  4. Arsenic Poisoning Symptoms And Treatments - Chelation Therapy Online, accessed May 7, 2011
  5. Arsenic poisoning - Wikipedia, accessed May 7, 2011
  6. 6.0 6.1 Water-related diseases/ Arsenicosis - World Health Organization, accessed May 7, 2011
  7. Towards an assessment of the socioeconomic impact of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh - World Health Organization, 2000
  8. Fluoride in Drinking-water - World Health Organization, 2004
  9. Griffin SO, Regnier E, Griffin PM, Huntley V (2007) - Effectiveness of fluoride in preventing caries in adults - J. Dent. Res. 86 (5): 410–5
  10. Iron - The George Mateljan Foundation, accessed May 7, 2011
  11. Rebecca J. Stoltzfus - Iron-Deficiency Anemia: Reexamining the Nature and Magnitude of the Public Health Problem - Center for Human Nutrition, Department of International Health, School of Hygiene and Public Health, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore MD
  12. Zam Zam water warning - Food Standards Agency, October 20, 2005
  13. 13.0 13.1 Guy Lynn - Contaminated Zam Zam holy water from Mecca sold in UK - BBC News, May 5, 2011