Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said:
When Ibrahim escorted Isma’il and his mother to the barren and dry land of Makkah, they only had a water-skin with them containing some water. Isma’il’s mother used to drink water from the water-skin so that her milk would increase for her child.
When Ibrahim reached Makkah, he had her and his son reside there. And as he was returning home, Isma’il’s mother followed him, “O Ibrahim! To whom are you leaving us?” He replied, “(I am leaving you) to Allah’s care.” She said, “I am satisfied to be with Allah.” She returned to her place and started drinking water from the water-skin, and her milk increased for her child.
When the water had all been used up, she said to herself, “I would better go and look so that I may see somebody to assist me.” She ascended the hill of Safa and looked, hoping to see somebody, but sew saw no one. When she came down to the valley, she ran till she reached the other hill, Marwah, but she saw no one. She ran to and from (between the two hills) many times.
Then she said to herself, “I would better go and see the state of the child,” she went and found it in a state of one on the point of dying. She could not endure to watch her child dying and said (to herself), “If I go and look, I may find somebody.” She went and ascended the hill of Safa once again and looked for a long while but could not see anybody. Subsequently, she completed seven rounds (of running) between Safa and Marwah.
Again she said (to herself), “I would better go back and see how the child is doing.” But all of a sudden she heard a voice, and she said to that strange voice, “Help us, if you can offer any help.” It was Jibril (who had made the voice). Jibril hit the earth with his heel and water gushed out. Isma’il’s mother was astonished and started digging. She started drinking from the water and her milk increased for her child.”
In another narration of Ibn ‘Abbas, the Prophet said, “May Allah be merciful to the mother of Isma’il! If she had left the water of Zamzam as it was, (without constructing a basin for keeping the water), it would have been a flowing stream. Jurhum (an ancient Arab tribe) came to Hajar (Isma’il’s mother) and asked her, “May we settle at your dwelling?” She answered, “Yes, but you have no ownership over the water.” They agreed.
Its water was the direct cause of Jurhum’s settlement in Makkah, and thus explaining how the dry and barren valley of Makkah became inhabited.
The Re-emergence of Zamzam
With the passage of time, the inhabitants of Makkah started to forego the ways of the pious ones. Jurhum, the core of the Makkan population, were driven out of Makkah when they became unjust and tyrannical. They, being fully aware of the importance of Zamzam, hideously plugged it to deny their conquerors its blessings. Zamzam was not reopened and henceforth was forgotten.
Many generations passed in Makkah with Zamzam in complete oblivion, until Abdul-Muttalib (the paternal grandfather of the Prophet) resurrected the dead well. Abdul-Muttalib himself was oblivious to Zamzam. With the approaching of the last divine message, a sequence of significant preludes was in order; the rebirth of Zamzam was one.
It so happened that for three consecutive nights, Abdul-Muttalib had a very clear dream about digging a well. During each dream, the name of the well was different and no location was mentioned. On the fourth night, however, both Zamzam and its location were communicated to Abdul-Muttalib so clearly that he attended to the appointed task on the morning of the very fourth night.
To the utter disbelief of the Makkans who ridiculed the seemingly futile attempt at finding water in such an arid place, Abdul-Muttalib found water in an ancient buried well so close to the Ka’bah. And it was only natural that the Makkans claim a share in this, obviously, special well. Abdul-Muttalib gave no concessions and rejected any such claim.
The Makkans and Abdul-Muttalib’s could not negotiate a middle ground, so both parties agreed to seek arbitration. They set out for a priestess whose judgment was accepted by both parties.
On their way, and while crossing the desert, the caravan ran out of water. The companions of Abdul-Muttalib all but gave up any hope of salvation. And when all seemed lost, water sprang out from the ever so small notch that Abdul-Muttalib’s camel made with its pad. Upon seeing this, the Makkans knew that He who saved Abdul-Muttalib from this eminent death on this journey was the One to settle the very question of Zamzam. Abdul-Muttalib became the sole heir to this special water. The matter was settled and the family of the Prophet was ennobled because of it.
It is of paramount importance to mention that Abdul-Muttalib’s possession of Zamzam was not an act of ownership where he would deny its water to others. Being the sole heir to Zamzam meant that Abdul-Muttalib alone was to provide Zamzam water to pilgrims; no one else (save his family of course) could partake in this most honourable privilege, as per Makkan tradition.