One of the ardent readers of this blog requested that I critique Islam’s sacred well called Zamzam. I will do just that.
The Zamzam well is located within the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, about 20m east of the Kaaba (the black stone Muslims dance around and kiss). Millions of pilgrims visit Zamzam well to drink its water during the pilgrimage. The Quran says nothing about the well – pointing to the fact that it wasn’t part of the rites observed by early Muslims.
In the Hadiths collected 250 years after the Quran, we are told that when Hagar and Ishmael were in the desert and Ishmael was thirsty, he scraped the sand and water was generated from that point. So, the hadith is saying the wild kicks of an infant dug a 98 ft well in a desert within seconds! Another version of the story says the well was dug by an angel’s foot. In another version, the angel dug it using his wings. 
In a bid to redact the Biblical account of Hagar and Ishmael to support Islam’s myths, the hadith ends up nailing itself.
One, Abraham, Ishmael and Hagar were never in Mecca and historically have no link with Zamzam well.
Two, it’s incredulous to accept that an oasis morphed into a deep well without changing its course nor affected by climatic factors for over a millennia. That may work well in the Islamic circles, but geologists will find it laughable.
Some historians point out that Mecca probably didn’t exist as a city before 4 BC when Yemenite immigrants colonized it. There’s no way Zamzam well would date back to the time of Abraham. To make the myth more appealing, Ibn Abbas ostensibly quotes Muhammad saying: “The best water on the face of the earth is Zamzam. In it is food for nourishment and healing for illness.” 
In 2011, a team of scientists established that the water from Zamzam well contained high levels of nitrate, potentially harmful bacteria and arsenic at levels 3 times the legal limit in the UK. This could result in cancer. 
This research blew the prayer caps off the heads of the clerics in Saudi Arabia. Eventually, they managed to find their own “scientists” to tell them what their ears of faith wanted to hear.
From the earliest biography of Muhammad, the truth about Zamzam unfolds. Muhammad’s grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, was said to have had a dream while sleeping in a ‘sacred’ pagan enclosure in which he was instructed to dig a well at a slaughter place of the Quraish tribe, between two idols – Isaf and Naila. In the dream, he was told to re-dig a Zamzam well which the Jurham tribe had filled up when they left Mecca.
When Abdul Muttalib embarked on his well project, he faced much opposition. He even vowed to sacrifice his son if he succeeded and the divination lot alarmingly fell on his favourite son, Abdullah (Muhammad’s father). But after consulting a sorceress, he was told to sacrifice camels to Allah/Hubal in place of his son, Abdullah. The Zamzam well became a religious site drawing more pilgrims to the Kaaba. 
Indeed, the Zamzam well was part of pre-Islamic pagan rites and was dedicated to two deities – Isaf and Naila. Arab scholar, Fahd T., says that Isaf and Naila were “a pair of gods worshipped at Mecca before Islam. Several orientalists of the past century … saw in them, not unreasonably, replicas of Baal and Baalat. Indeed Isaf and Naila do display the essential characteristics distinguishing this pair of gods from the many avatars known in the various Semitic religions: physical representations by two sacred stones erected close to each other, or by two parallel hills…” 
It’s possible that the same fertility deities of the Zamzam well were also represented by Safa and Marwa – the two “sacred” hills Muslims run through during the hajj.
During pre-Islamic days, many pagans came to Mecca for pilgrimage. The Kaaba shrine at the time had about 360 idols whose names the pilgrims (who were often stark naked) would chant as they circumambulate the pagan stone. Although Muhammad threw away the images of the idols and stopped the nude aspect of the rite when he took over the Kaaba, he retained most of the pagan rituals.
Today, Muslim pilgrims wear the Ihram clothing as they still ignorantly offer worship to ancient Arabian pagan deities (now disguised as “monotheism”).
An Indian author even asserts that from certain similarities, the Kaaba was originally a temple of Shiva. He says that “the Shankara stone which Muslim pilgrims reverently touch and kiss in the Kaaba” is an emblem of Shiva and “wherever the Shiva emblem is, the Ganges must co-exist. True to this association, a sacred fountain [Zamzam] exists near the Kaaba.” 
While this claim may be far fetched, in any case, there’s nothing ‘sacred’ about the Zamzam well anymore than the black stone idol that Muslim face in prayer.
1. Sahih Bukhari, 3113
2. Mu’jam Al-Kabeer, 11011.
3. BBC News May, 5, 2011.
4. Sirat Rasul Allah, translated by Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad, 1955, 66-68.
5. Encyclopedia of Islam, second edition. Available online.
6. Purushottam Oak, Was Kaaba a Hindu Temple?