The First British Muslim Woman To Perform Hajj
Almost 100 years ago, a Scottish Muslim woman made her way to Makkah in a motor car to perform Hajj. Travelling entirely by herself, Lady Evelyn Zainab Cobbold gained popularity due to her unique story of traversing the many roads to reach the holy city at the age of 65. Upon returning to Britain, she went about documenting her travels and consequently published a book called Pilgrimage to Mecca.
Who Was Lady Evelyn Cobbold
Lady Evelyn Cobbold (1868 – 1963) was an Anglo-Scottish aristocrat and traveller who had a peculiar interest in deer stalking.
Lady Evelyn first began gaining interest in Islam after she visited North Africa. It was there that she immersed herself into the Muslim way of life and fell in love with Islam. Whilst there is no record of her converting, her book tells us enough. She was a Muslim at heart and passionately embarked on an unparalleled journey across the Arab world to perform Hajj.
“I am often asked when and why I became a Moslem. I can only reply that I do not know the precise moment when the truth of Islam dawned on me. It seems that I have always been a Moslem.”
Much of what she saw and experienced has been documented in her travelogue, Pilgrimage to Mecca. But her book was not just about the physical journey. Lady Evelyn took the chance to discuss and share the finer details of her journey towards spirituality and Islam which also takes the reader on a tour of the context of Mecca and Medina in the early 20th century.
Lady Evelyn feared not when it came to speaking the truth. Much of the discourse found in her book is an effort to clear misconceptions about Islam in a world that was then suffering from the rise of colonialism. Acting as an ambassador of Islam, her book brings to the surface basic yet crucial points about Islam which helped in providing a good understanding of what it meant to be Muslim. In essence, her book was not only a travelogue or a journal but an effort to practise Dawah and spread the news about Islam.
At the age of 95, Lady Evelyn left this world. Before Lady Evelyn’s death, she instructed her family to bury her on her estate in Wester Ross. As per her wish, she is buried in her estate on a remote hillside with the flat slab over her grave adorned with a verse from the Holy Qur’an which reads:
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
Whilst her legacy lives on subtly and humbly, it is a shame that her story is not well publicised. Even though her contemporaries include the likes of Abdullah Quilliam and Marmaduke Pickthall, her name and story do not make it as far as theirs. Lady Evelyn was a unique individual who was bold, courageous and above all, a seeker of the truth, and her story still shines today as it did back then!