King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz
Rehabilitation of Ain Zubaida Project
Dr. Mozammel Haque
There are many historical wonders in the land of Saudi Arabia and one of the wonders is Ain Zubaida. Ain Zubaida is a symbol of the magnificent legacy of a unique historical water project, built during the eighth century, exactly in AD 801 and named after its founder, Zubaida Al-Abbasi, the wife of the Islamic Caliph Haroon Al-Rasheed. Zubaida was a memorable lady who lived in Baghdad from AD 760 to 820.
Ain Zubaida is such a brilliant water system with its fantastic engineering feat that it is still survived after 1200 years. Preservation and rehabilitation of this historical heritage is given utmost importance at a project run by a unit at King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah.
Professor Omar Siraj Abu Rizaiza of the King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, who is a native to the region and an established researcher in the field of water resources with extensive expertise in the typography of the Arab peninsula and its resources, gave a lecture on the historical dimensions of Ain Zubaida at a meeting organised by the London Middle East Institute (LMEI) at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London at the Brunei Gallery, on 30th of April, 2012. The lecture carries the objective of extending the initiative of the Saudi Arabian government to increase the publicity of Ain Zubaida heritage.
Professor Abu Rizaiza, who is Professor in Civil Engineering, College of Engineering and Principal Investigator of the Project of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz for the Rehabilitation of Ain Zubaida, gave glimpses of his extensive scrutiny of the engineering works of Ain Zubaina.
Historical background of the Ain Zubaida
Mentioning about the historical background of the Ain Zubaida, Professor Abu Rizaiza said, when Zubaida performed Hajj, she noticed the overwhelming need for proper water supply, especially at the Holy Places. She decided to supply these areas with fresh drinking water. Upon her return to Baghdad, she contacted engineers and briefed them regarding her decision to supply these areas with water. After in-depth studies and research, the engineers explained that the project would be extremely expensive. Her response, quick and straightforward, indicated that people’s lives were of higher value. The engineers designed a brilliant project. They carried out further studies for the construction of an integrated system for collecting, transporting, storing and distributing water around the Holy Places.
The cost of the project was one million dinar pounds, the equivalent of a piece of gold weighing approx. 10 grams. The project took ten years to complete. As a result of such great efforts and tremendous engineering feats, the project has survived to the present day, with large sections still operating efficiently.
Its elements and engineering works
The system consisted of canals (Qanats), manholes, retaining walls, culvert, dams, bridges, pools, ground (and elevated) water storage tanks and distribution outlets embellished with beautifully shaped stone taps. Qanats: Qanats are of two types: (1) Qanats for collection and Transport; and (2) Qanats for Transport only.
Galleries for water collection and transport: They function as water collecting parts; built underground, crown (upper part) is below GW table level. They are designed in such a way that there is enough pressure to push the water to seep into the galleries. .
Speaking about the engineering works of the Ain Zubaida, Professor Abu Rizaiza mentioned, The system consists of canals (Qanats), manholes, retaining walls, culvert, dams, bridges, pools, ground (and elevated) water storage tanks and distribution outlets embellished with beautifully shaped stone taps.
Operation and Maintenance of Ain Zubaida:
Virtually from its inception, the Ain Zubaida System was operating under the auspices of a Trust Fund and Maintenance System (Awqaf), which derived its liquidity from the incomes generated by vast property holdings. This self-financing system (Awqaf) provided capital for the purchase of material, as well as operation and maintenance work performed by a variegated labour force.
Professor Abu Rizaiza mentioned about the main labour force of the Ain Zubaida, which consisted of approx. 500 salaried employees, composed of the following: Full-time staff, part-time staff, and consultants (on call) .There were hundreds of volunteers and working pro bono; these were skilled craftsmen, residents of the Mecca region, who would be rotated to work a number of hours in a so-called “after-shift”.
All salaried employees as well as volunteers would be interviewed by committees. To be appointed candidates have to convince the committee members of their professional calibre, mentioned Professor Abu Rizaiza.
Inspection and Maintenance Programme:
Speaking about the inspection and maintenance programme, Professor Abu Rizaiza said, the maintenance programme consists of the following events:
• (1) Weekly inspection (Routine);
• (2) Standard maintenance run (every 6-12 months);
• (3) Special post-flood maintenance work (on average; once every 10 years).
Professor Abu Rizaiza also explained the geographic location of Ain Zubaida in Wadi Naaman, towards the east of the City of Makkah.
Rehabilitation of Ain Zubaida
Speaking about the Rehabilitation of the Ain Zubaida System, Professor Abu Rizaiza, the Director General of the Unit for Ain Zubaida Rehabilitation and Ground Water research at King Abdulaziz University, said, in recent years there has been a renewed interest in traditional water supply systems, such as ains, in the Kingdom, not only as a sustainable source of water, but also as a cultural heritage item of engineering works. Some of these systems, especially the ones located at the Holy Places, are not only important locally but also have global significance.
Professor Abu Rizaiza also mentioned about the shifting from Ain to Well System massive pump operations. He said, due to massive expansion of tube-wells used by public and private parties in the vicinity of Ain Zubaida, the pumping of water for the wholesale market in the Jeddah and Makkah areas became a routine practice. This change in water operations has resulted in a considerable drop in the groundwater table, with the system drying up. This caused the infrastructure of many parts to deteriorate, with facilities becoming almost obsolete.
The provision of water was the most fundamental aspect of looking after the pilgrims. The most important features of the infrastructure, the birak were basically tanks or small reservoirs for collecting rainwater and runoff from the shallow wadis (intermittent watercourses) of northern and north-eastern Arabia. Water from the spasmodic and occasional rains would be challenned into these tanks and, when the system was working at its best, would be stored there until the time of the Hajj when the pilgrims could make use of it. Numerous well-spaced birak were built along the trail in a sophisticated feat of engineering.
The classic Abbasid period birak on the Darb Zubaida were square or rectangular tanks, 30-50m (100-165 ft) along the sides and about 5m (16 ft) deep. They were built of stone, usually coursed rubble, and some were lined with plaster to prevent leakage.
A Brief Note on Zubaida, her background and contribution
Professor Abu Rizaiza gave a brief note on the life, education and famous projects of Zubaida. Zubaida was born in Al-Mussel in AD 762. When she was one year old, her father died and she was taken to the house of her grandfather who raised her most responsibly. After her grandfather’s death, one of her paternal uncles looked after her. He was kind and very helpful.
While at her grandfather’s house, she was taught by famous top scholars. Her preferential subjects were: History, Art, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion and Science. She was considered a talented, intelligent, serious and dedicated learner.
Zubaida was married to Haroon al-Rasheed, the Fifth Abbasid Caliph. She died in AD 831 in Baghdad, 32 years after her husband’s death.
Zubaida’s Famous Projects
Lady Zubaida carried out many famous projects during her lifetime, such as Bait al-Hekma Library, Baghdad, Research and Education Centre, Translation Centre and Ain Zubaida. It is most important to note that a Muslim lady of her stature in those early periods carried out so many educational, welfare and research-oriented translation projects.
The Bait al-Hekma Library, Baghdad
Professor Abu Rizaiza mentioned about the Bait al-Hekma Library. He said, Zubaida along with her husband established the Bait al-Hekma Library at Baghdad, which is the largest and most famous library in the history of Islam. She acquired for the library books and makhtotat (manuscripts) from different countries and written in different languages such as Arabic, Greek, Latin, Persian, Indian and Chinese. Her main concern was to stock the library with as many books as possible no matter what the cost! The library is still operating today, said Professor Abu Rizaiza. .
Research and Education Centre
Another important project which Zubaida established was the Research and Education Centre. Professor Abu Rizaiza said, Zubaida contributed significantly to the establishment of this vast facility. She recruited outstanding scholars and scientists from all over the world to teach there. She paid them high salaries and awarded them prestige beside elevated academic status. She also provided a support structure for the scholars that would handle all of their daily necessities, in order to free them for research and educational activities.
Zubaida also participated in establishing a translation centre for producing Arabic versions of texts written in principal contemporary languages, [such as (mainly) Greek, Latin and Persian]. This was in addition to extensive work on research reports and other texts, mentioned Professor Abu Rizaiza.