Holy drinking water contaminated with arsenic is being sold illegally to Muslims by UK shops, the BBC has found:
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.
Last year the Food Standards Agency said people “should consider avoiding” the drink in the UK, which it said came from dubious sources:
Zam Zam water is sacred to Muslims and comes from a specific source in Saudi Arabia. Under Saudi law, Zam Zam water cannot be exported from Saudi Arabia for sale. Any water on sale in the UK that is labelled as Zam Zam is therefore of uncertain origin.
Tests carried out on water described as Zam Zam in the UK over the past few years, including water brought into the country for personal consumption, have indicated the presence of arsenic at almost three times the legal limit. […]
The FSA has consulted on this issue with its Muslim Organisations Working Group (comprising representatives from Muslim community groups and companies involved with the production of halal food) which advises the Agency on foods appropriate for Muslim faith groups.
If consumers find any water on sale that is labelled as Zam Zam, they should contact the local authority enforcement office at their local council so they can investigate further.
In 2007 Middle East Online explained why Muslims value the water:
Millions of Muslims making the annual pilgrimage to their holiest site, Mecca, flock to get a share of spring water they believe originates in heaven and is endowed with healing power.
The spring, named Zamzam, has according to Muslim belief run uninterrupted for some 4,000 years, from the time of prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael.
The 31-metre (105-foot) deep source is located inside the Grand Mosque complex and its water is used to wash the holy Kaaba stone at the Grand Mosque ahead of the annual pilgrimage or hajj, which this year formally begins on Monday.
Worshippers in the Grand Mosque are able to drink Zamzam from hundreds of scattered taps.
Because of belief in its healing power, there is a rush during every hajj — when some two million Muslims converge on Mecca — to collect some of the precious water for family members and friends who could not make the journey to Mecca.