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Lady Evelyn, the first British woman to make the pilgrimage to Mecca

Medium.com — Lady Evelyn Cobbold (d. 1963) was the first British Muslim woman to make the pilgrimage to Mecca known as the Hajj, in 1933. Born in 1867 Lady Evelyn was a Scottish noblewoman and a convert to Islam, she spent the winters of her childhood in Algiers, often escaping the Moorish Villa to visit Mosques, she also learned to speak Arabic.

Prince Sa’ud ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz in the centre, Hafiz Wahba stands on the left and slightly behind the prince, Lady Evelyn stands to his left. (medium.com)
Prince Sa’ud ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz in the centre, Hafiz Wahba stands on the left and slightly behind the prince, Lady Evelyn stands to his left. (medium.com)

She took the name Zaynab and ‘came out’ as a Muslim before the Pope when he asked if she was a Catholic. Her conversion to Islam may not seem extraordinary to many, but it was often difficult for members of the aristocracy, as it meant they had to forego drinking alcohol, something that would have been social alienating to say the least. She had to seek special dispensation to perform the Ḥajj, announcing her intention to Saudi Arabia’s minister in London, Hafiz Wahba, who wrote to King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz in Riyadh requesting formal permission.

“I am in the Mosque of Mecca, and for a few seconds I am lost to my surroundings because of the wonder of it. We are walking on white marble through a great vault whose ceiling is a full fifty feet above us, and enter pillared cloisters holding the arched roof and surrounding an immense quadrangle…

I had never imagined anything so stupendous…We walk on to the Holy of Holies, the house of Allah [the Ka’bah] rising in simple majesty. It would require a master pen to describe the scene, poignant in its intensity of the great concourse of humanity of which I was one small unit, completely lost to their surroundings in a fervour of religious enthusiasm…I felt caught up in a strong wave of spiritual exaltation…”

As a woman she had intimate access to the female side of domestic life in the two holy cities, others before her, mostly men, had not been afforded this opportunity.

She died in the 1963, she lived through World Wars, journeyed much of the Middle East, and its likely she heard about the fall of the Caliphate too. Her funeral was held in Glencarron in Scotland and is presided over by the Imām of the Woking Mosque on a cold winters day in January, she requests that Sūrah Nūr is read at her funeral. Her grave stone is inscribed with a verse from Sūrah Nūr, “Allāh is the Light of the heavens and the earth.” click here for more www.medium.com

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