The first British Muslim woman to go on pilgrimage: Who is Zainab Cobbold?

The story of Lady Evelyn Cobbold, who went on a pilgrimage in 1933 at the age of 65 after becoming a Muslim and received the title of "the first English woman to perform the Hajj", finding Islam in her own words...

By Jane Dickens Published on 13 Kasım 2023 : 23:25.
The first British Muslim woman to go on pilgrimage: Who is Zainab Cobbold?

Evelyn Cobbold, who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1867, later turned to Islam. At the time when Cobbold became a Muslim, Islam was not a widespread religion in England.

What made her conversion to Islam unusual was that she belonged to the aristocratic class. Consider the repercussions this noble lady's conversion to Islam had in England.

How could someone who had no Muslims in her family, who lived miles away from the center of Islam, and who had such a fateful distance from the nearest mosque, feel a feeling in her heart that led her to Islam?

Zainab Cobbold (born Lady Evelyn Murray; 17 July 1867 – January 1963) was a Scottish diarist, traveller and noblewoman who was known for her conversion to Islam in 1915.

Evelyn Cobbold's father, Charles Adolphus Murray, spent most of Cobbold's childhood in Algeria and Cairo, as she served in British foreign policy missions. While she was in North Africa, she spent a lot of time with the children there and visited mosques with them. She was raised by Muslim nannies and learned Arabic very well.

There must have been something about the Muslims she encountered that affected her so deeply that she converted to Islam and studied Islam later in her life. Evelyn Cobbold later writes about how she felt Muslim as a child for as long as she could remember.

Evely Cobbold also had friends such as Marmaduke Pickthall (who translated the Holy Quran into English in 1915), who also later became a Muslim. Cobbold's friendships with Muslims had a great impact on her conversion to Islam.

In Cobbold's letters from her correspondence with her Arab friend from North Africa and Syria, the fact that her childhood friends addressed Cobbold as "Our sister in Islam" is proof that she was a Muslim at that time and at least her friends saw her as a Muslim.

Islam had a great impact on Zeynep's relationships with her family, especially on her marriage. Evelyn married John Dupuis Cobbold, a British nobleman whom she met in Cairo, in 1891; In 1922, 31 years after their marriage, she separated from her husband without officially divorcing him. During her marriage, Cobbold had three children. Although it is not certain, it is known that Zainab Cobbold's conversion to Islam caused unrest in her husband and her husband's family and was effective in their separation.

One of the extraordinary things in Zeynep's story was that she went to the Holy Land to perform the Hajj pilgrimage in 1933 when she was 65 years old.

At that time, it was quite unusual for a Western woman to perform the Hajj pilgrimage without an accompanying person. However, Zainab Cobbold, who is definitely determined to go on Hajj, sends her request for permission to Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to London, Hafiz Wahba.

Without waiting for the official procedures to be completed, she asks her friends, Englishman Harry St. John Philby and her wife, who live in Jeddah, to forward her letter explaining her situation. Harry St John Philby is a British Muslim who later took the name Abdullah. Abdullah Philby helps Zainab Cobbold and ensures that she comes to Saudi Arabia until she is granted permission to enter Mecca. Cobbold, who met Jeddah's leaders and Crown Prince Faisal through Philby, later went to a family living in Medina, again with Philby's help.

However, Zeynep needs to get special permission from King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia to travel to Mecca alone. As a result of Lady Zeynep's political references and long efforts, she was granted a travel permit, and Zeynep, who passed away in 1963 at the age of 95, 30 years after completing her pilgrimage, went to Inverness, a remote and beautiful place in the north of Scotland, in accordance with her beliefs is buried.

Sometimes people come to the door of the mosque in Inverness and ask the imam if they can go up to the hill where Lady Zeinab is buried to visit her grave to show their respect. However, it is not easy to visit the grave because it is located within the borders of private property. Special permission is required to enter the land where Zeynep is buried. After entering the land, you need to be guided by someone who knows how to find the grave.

Inverness has a Muslim community of several hundred people these days, but when Zeynep passed away, there was no other Muslim in Inverness other than her. There was no imam in the town to hold Zeynep's funeral.

Zeynep's last wish was to be buried in a way that deer could pass over her grave. Zeynep is in her final resting place in Glenuaig in the Glencarron District. At her funeral, while songs were played with Scottish bagpipes, the imam read verses from the Holy Quran. At the funeral, British nobles, along with local people, were among the mourners.