Abdul Muttalib and the well of Zam Zam

We begin the story of the life of Muhammad صل الله عليه و سلم with the story of the zamzam well. As many Muslims are familiar with, the Well of Zamzam was a blessing for the sake of Ismail عليه السلام. When the Lady Hajra had run out of milk in the middle of the barren and empty desert, she implored Allah for sustenance. A gushing outpouring of water appeared under the kicking feet of Ismail عليه السلام, and had Sayyidina Hajra not tried to contain it, it would likely have turned into a large river to flow through Makkah. As it happens, she held her hands up the flowing water, and cried “zam zam!” in a surprised attempt to stop it’s flow, and then proceeded to build up a mound of sand to form a wall around it. Thus, it was contained to a well, and did not become that river.

At the time, there were two tribes prevalent around Makkah, the Jurhum and Khuza’ah. Sayyidina Hajra permitted the tribes to take water from the well of Zam Zam, but insisted on maintaining rights to the well (a testimony to her mental fortitude–as a woman on her own in the desert, she was certainly strong to be able to negotiate with two tribes that were generally at war with each other, and would have certainly had no qualms about warring with her). Eventually, a time came when the Jurhum tribe was driven out of Makkah by the Khuza’ah. On their way out, the tribe decided to cover up the well, perhaps feeling spiteful towards the Khuza’ah and wanting them to suffer a bit. For a long time thereafter, the well of Zam Zam was no longer visible, and while the general location was know, the specific location was elusive.

Eventually, Abdul Muttalib, the grandfather of Muhammad صل الله عليه و سلم, was given the task of providing pilgrims to Makkah with water. Thus began his search for the well of Zam Zam. One night, he saw a dream telling him where the well was located, and he began digging the next day at that spot. The rest of the Quraish resented this, because all this digging happened to be at the spot at which two of their idols (Isaf and Nailah) were standing. Abdul Muttalib continued to dig with his son, and realizing the extent of his isolation (just two of them against a whole tribe), he asked Allah to give him ten sons, and if Allah granted him his wish, he’d sacrifice one of them in the name of Allah. A short time later, the well was discovered, and over the course of his life, Abdul Muttalib was also granted the ten sons he’d asked for.

The time came when he had to fulfill his oath to sacrifice one of those sons. He went to the Ka’bah and decided to draw lots to determine which son it would be. The arrows of chance chose Abdullah, the son who was most dear to Abdul Muttalib, and they left for the altar of sacrifice. His family and the various chiefs of the Quraish tried mightily to stop this sacrifice, but Abdul Muttalib was intent on fulfilling his promise to Allah. Ultimately, they all convinced him to take the advice of one of their prominent soothsayers, Saja, who would be able to find a wise solution. Abdul Muttalib agreed to this idea, as I can imagine he was not all too eager to see the demise of his son.

The soothsayer advised that the blood money for a single person was ten camels. So, they should put Abdullah on one side, ten camels on the other side, and then draw lots. If the camels were chosen, then they would be slaughtered; but if Abdullah was chosen, then ten more camels should be added and lots should be once again be drawn. This process should continue for as long as it takes for the arrows of chance to fall upon the camels. In the end, ten lots were drawn, for the eventual number of 100 camels. Since then, the blood money for one person killed has been fixed at 100 camels. (In short, killing a human being is expensive business. Contrary to popular opinion, camels in good health are not cheap. A hundred of them, forget about it.)


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6 Responses to Abdul Muttalib and the well of Zam Zam

  1. BuJassem says:

    Really liked this story and very relevant since I did Umrah last week. Elhamdillah.
    When I was a kiddo, I remember the zamzam well was under the tawaf area, which I understand is where the Zam Zam well is, however now it’s all closed and instead they use plumbing and other tricks to get the water to the masses.

    i preferred the old times when you could go down and get the water yourself.

    I am not that old, but just in this short time there has been tremendous growth in the number of muslim pilgrims.. mashalla.. but i am one of the few (perhaps hated) muslims that believe the number of people allowed to visit mecca (especially during hajj) should be really limited.. this talk of 2.0 or 2.5 million is not good.

    Drop it gradually to 1.0 million or even less is good with me. At the end of the day not every muslim can afford to do hajj due to money or health or lack of faith. Those who can do hajj do it more than once in their lives which makes me so angry. The prophet pbuh only did it once, so why overdo it and rob other muslims from the chance to celebrate such a fantastic journey?


    • MashaAllah! I hope you had a fabulous Umrah, and may Allah invite you back many times, ameen! It’s funny that you mention the plumbing of today’s ZamZam well, because my sister was saying, when I was writing this, “How cool would it be if we could go up to the well and scoop out the water directly?” Amazing that you had the chance in your lifetime! Alhamdulillah!

      I get where you’re coming from with the growth of the Hajj-going population. I also get why so many people can’t stop with just one Hajj. There was one Iraqi man we met, whose family has been living in Iran since the first Gulf war while he lives in Scandinavia…and the only chance he gets to meet his parents is by going for Hajj every couple of years. And then there was one family we met while in Hajj who’d been on their 14th Hajj…mashaAllah, but it really does make it difficult for others. I remember reading somewhere that Saudis are restricted to one Hajj per 5 year period…that would be a pretty good idea to implement for the rest of us, too. It is a fantastic journey…and somehow, over-using it seems to diminish it’s effect on many of the people who go repeatedly, well, the ones I see around me anyhow!

      Wa salaam 🙂

      PS: Have you got a blog? If you do, I would be privileged to get a chance to read it!

  2. BuJassem says:

    Salam sis,
    ok let me be clear.. i didn’t scoop water from the well, but when i was a kid (i was 5 yrs) i remember definitely going underground UNDER the mataf (where ppl circle the kaaba) and they had a few taps for ppl to fill up with zamzam. The well was not farther than a few feet away. Obviously you couldn’t get access to the well, but we were so close to it. The fact that it was underground was fantastic.. coz u were “closer” to the water.

    now they have pipes that go for kilometers!!! no more underground! the water is even cooled!

    i used to blog for about 3 yrs but then closed it for one main reason.. ppl would know more about me than i knew about them. anyway since my life changed a bit now, i have reopened it now.. and i believe u found it 🙂

    back in the days, i was listed on itoot.net i wonder if they still recognise me!

    i will try not to spend the same time i did b4 on my blog.. and also make it more informative and less personal. hope u like it.

    i need to find a way to upload the old mp3s too!!! my own (haram) piano recordings.

  3. Wa’Alaykum Salam 🙂 Well, ok, perhaps dreaming of anyone scooping it out in our lifetime was hoping for too much lol…but getting it from a tap so close to the well, that’s just as fabulous, alhamdulillah!

    Yes, I did find your blog…I realized the link was in one of the comments when I was editing, and was very pleased to read it. I can understand why you closed it; it’s a blogger’s struggle, maintaining a balance of how much to tell the world about yourself, while not knowing anything about the people who are reading you. Some bloggers have no trouble (or so it seems) with sharing everything, and seem to find a kind of freedom in that level of sharing. I’m not there, yet, and doubt I ever will be!

    I’m sure itoot people would recognize you…each blogger, even though there are thousands out there in any given community, are instantly recognizable, especially when they resurface, mostly because they are missed so much when they leave. I’m certain you were one of the sorely missed.

    You’re off to a fabulous reblog, brother 🙂 I look forward to reading more, inshaAllah.

  4. Hey salaams!

    I must say that I wasn’t aware of this incident, so it is knowledge already for me! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Wa ‘Alaykum Salaam 🙂 You’re welcome! I found it fascinating when I first read this. The layers of history with regard to the zam-zam well are amazing.

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