Saturday, November 26, 2011

Zamzam - the water of pilgrimage

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of arriving at Oslo airport just as a charter flight with pilgrims returned from Mecca. The baggage claim area was full of men in taqiyah prayer caps and women in burqa robes, all searching for their luggage. Beyond customs control, throngs of family and friends stood waiting with flowers, food gifts and welcoming posters. Nearly all travellers had large plastic containers in cloth sacks on their baggage carts on the way out. Thats how I knew they had been to Mecca.

The plastic containers being wheeling out were filled with water originating from the Zamzam well, only a few meters from the Kaaba in Mecca. Millions of pilgims drink water from this well every year, and it is considered a miracle that it never dries up.

According to one story, Abraham's young son Ishmael was thirsty, becoming more and more upset when he wasn't given water. Finally, Ishmael got so frustrated that he started kicking the ground. At that spot, a spring suddenly gushed forth, allowing him to drink. That is where the Zamzam well is.

Zamzam water can also be an aspect in travel marketing, as Emir Aviation advertises a gift of 10 liters of Zamzam water for every person flying on a pilgrimage with them. Could this be the airline that the Mecca travelers I saw had returned with?

Other religions also consider water from certain sources to have special properties. Christian use of Holy Water and Hindu belief in the healing power of the Ganges are perhaps the best known. I had intriguing discussions with people about this while collecting material for the exhibition "Farewell - Death and bereavement in multi-cultural Norway". That exhibition has been on tour for several years, and has recently been set up at Oslo City Museum in Vigeland Park.

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