Poem for Beginning Anew: “Zamzam” by Doyali Farah Islam

ZP_Water_photograph by Laboni Islam

Doyali Farah Islam



Zamzam was found

under a heap of dung,

where the blood of rites

fertilized stone.


… Zamzam … was found …

under a heap of dung.


it was ‘Abd al-Muttalib

who decided which to cherish.


it wasn’t just springwater,

but his decision

that was the freshness.


… this ground we unmuck

called listening heart

carves deep the shallowest



somewhere breathes its breath

from between your two breasts.


(no need to divine

perfect locations;

approximations are enough.)


… out in the plain open, I was searching for a particular thing,

and a thousand hidden

wellsprings of treasure

passed me by.


Hajar runs between two hills, desperate to find what quenches thirst.


then she gives up going back and forth in the desert of fear,

and Ishmael’s heel strikes water.

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Poet’s notes on “Zamzam”:


The Well of Zamzam was in use from the time of Ishmael and Hajar’s story (explained below), until it was filled with the treasures of pilgrimage offerings by the Jurhumites who controlled Mecca (Lings 4). The Jurhumites covered the well with sand, and the water source was largely forgotten (Lings 5). Many years later, ‘Abd al-Muttalib, sleeping near the Ka‘bah, heard the Divine command, “Dig Zamzam!” (Lings 10). The well was recovered, and it still serves Muslim pilgrims on Hajj.

Abd al-Muttalib:

While the “heap” element in the poem is hyperbolic, Muhammad’s grandfather, ‘Abd al-Muttalib, did re-locate the spring of Zamzam near the Ka‘bah at the site upon which he found dung, an ant’s nest, as well as blood from ritual sacrifices performed by the Quraysh (Lings 10-11).

Hajar and Ishmael:

Hajar (Biblical: Hagar), the second wife of Abraham, after Sarah, was alone in the desert with her baby, Ishmael. Desperate to find water, she ran between two hillocks – now called Safā and Marwah – so that she could view the desert from better vantage points. After seven tries with no sight of a caravan, she gave up and sat down. A well sprang up where Ishmael’s heel touched the ground (Lings 2-3). This well became the Well of Zamzam.


Reference: Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings (Inner Traditions/Bear & Co.) © 1983, 1991, 2006, originally published in the UK by George Allen & Unwin © 1983.

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Zamzam” is taken from Doyali Farah Islam’s 2011 collection, Yūsuf and the Lotus Flower, published by Buschek Books in Ottawa, Canada.


Doyali Farah Islam is the first-place winner of Contemporary Verse 2’s 35th Anniversary Contest, and her poems have appeared in Grain Magazine (38.2), amongst other places. Born to Bangladeshi parents, Islam grew up in Toronto and spent four years abroad in London, England. As to her true dwelling place, she can only offer: “I am borrowed breath. / if you too are borrowed, / we meet in the home of our breather.” Islam holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Equity Studies from the University of Toronto (Victoria College).



Image:  Water – a photograph by Laboni Islam

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