Holy drinking water contaminated with arsenic is being sold illegally to Muslims by UK shops, the BBC has found.The reaction was as one would expect:
"Zam Zam" water is taken from a well in Mecca and is considered sacred to Muslims, but samples from the source suggested it held dangerous chemicals.
Tourists can bring back small amounts from Saudi Arabia, but it cannot be exported for commercial use.
An undercover researcher found large quantities of bottles being sold in east and south London, and in Luton.
The president of the Association of Public Analysts said he would "certainly would not recommend" drinking it.
A BBC investigation discovered "Zam Zam" water was being sold by Muslim bookshops in Wandsworth, south-west London, and Upton Park, east London, as well as in Luton, Bedfordshire.
"The water is poisonous, particularly because of the high levels of arsenic, which is a carcinogen," said Dr Duncan Campbell, president of the Association of Public Analysts.
The BBC asked a pilgrim to take samples from taps which were linked to the Zam Zam well and to buy bottles on sale in Mecca, to compare the water on sale illegally with the genuine source.
These 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.
A BBC report that claimed Zamzam water from Makkah is polluted and that it contains high levels of nitrate, potentially harmful bacteria and traces of arsenic three times the permitted level has met with angry reactions from pilgrims and residents.
Saudi authorities have refuted the claim, saying adequate measures have been taken to ensure the safety of Zamzam well and its water.
The majority of people Arab News spoke to rubbished the BBC’s "flight of imagination" and advised it not to play with the sensitivities of Muslims and the Arab world.
Suleiman Abu Ghilya, president of the United Zamzam Office that is in charge of the distribution of the holy water, told the Al-Eqtisadiah daily that the recent BBC report was biased and baseless.
“This report was not at all based on laboratory tests of the holy water taken from the Zamzam well. The report could have been based on tests undertaken on contaminated Zamzam after collecting it from people who stored it in unhygienic conditions,” he said while highlighting the fact that the holy water is tested at laboratories in Makkah on a daily basis.
“The tests are being carried out by experts, including those from the Saudi Geological Survey and the Saline Water Conversion Corporation,” Abu Ghilya said.
Umrah pilgrims and visitors to Islam’s holiest city rejected the claims against Zamzam water. They considered the allegations baseless and emphasized that such propaganda did not deter them from drinking the holy water. “Our ardent desire to drink Zamzam water is based on the Tradition of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who said: ‘Zamzam water is what one intends to drink it for.’ We are accustomed to hearing such baseless allegations about Zamzam every now and then,” a pilgrim told Al-Eqtisadiah.
Dawood Belal Bernawi, a Saudi who was born and brought up in Makkah, also exclaimed with wonder on the BBC’s idea of a contaminated Zamzam well. He was also confident that the perennial spring would never be contaminated, and he added that in his family the young, grownups and even very old people all drank Zamzam since their birth and their health was ideal. “When the whole region was affected by viral infections, Zamzam saved our family from cold and fever,” he said.
King Fahd University for Petroleum and Mineral Resources (KFUPM) has conducted tests on Zamzam water using the latest laser spectrum disintegration technology and concluded that it contains no harmful substances, including arsenic.To be fair, it is entirely possible that the Muslim pilgrim that the BBC hired to grab the real Zam Zam might have just grabbed some fake Zam Zam from a shop in the UK.
The series of tests, which were conducted over the last few months, gauged part-per-million levels of harmful materials, the smallest unit of measurement.
“It was an independent study to reach definitive results on different water samples, including Zamzam water,” said Dr. Fada Al-Adel, a physics professor at KFUPM.
“The main objective was to detect the precise component structure of Zamzam water.” He said the research team, which also included Dr. Muhammad Koundal, Dr. Khidhr Hayad and Dr. Abdul Qadeer Destagair, used the latest laser spectrum disintegration methods in their testing, and that the study is in the final stages of results analysis and is scheduled for publication in scientific journals.
The BBC really needs to follow up. If its methods are at odds with the scientists saying that Zam Zam is safe, the one who is wrong needs to do some explaining.