Zainab Cobbold: The First British Woman To Perform Pilgrimage To Mecca

by Johnson Ayomide

lslam had always been considered as a new religion in the United Kingdom with many reports not paying attention to the longevity of the religion in the United Kingdom but latest discoveries have made it known that Islam had long been existent within the borders of the UK and the perfect image for the beginnigs may just be Zainab Cobbold.


Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1867 to Charles Adolphus Murray who was the 7th Earl of Dunmore and Lady Gertrude Coke who was the 2nd Earl of Leicester, Zainab Cobbold was christened Evelyn Murray and is better known as a Scottish noble woman who converted to Islam. She was the eldest daughter of her parents .

Cobbold spent a large chunk of her childhood in major Islamic capitals of Algiers and Cairo in the company of Muslim nannies. She considered herself a Muslim from a very young age, though she never officially professed her faith until she met the Pope who what her religion was.

Evelyn achieved celebrity at age 65, in 1933, when she got to be the very first Muslim woman born in Britain to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca.

In 1934, a personal account of her trip was published and titled Pilgrimage to Mecca. An excerpt from her work can be found in Michael Wolfe’s book “One Thousand Roads to Mecca.”

Born in Edinburgh in 1867 and died in 1963 aged 96 , Cobbold was an Aristocratic Briton – she was the eldest daughter of Charles Adolphus Murray 7th Earl of Dunmore and Lady Gertrude Coke, daughter of the Second Earl of Leicester.

She later grew up in the middle east with Muslim nannies and always  learnt Arabic and although there was no situation she ever called herself Muslim she believed she was Muslim. She soon became a Mayfair socialite and spent her childhood winters in North Africa where her fascination with and interest in Islam developed. It was not until she visited Italy with a friend and went to pay a visit to the Pope who asked if she was Catholic, and although she had never had thoughts about Islam for years she to replied by saying she was Muslim and she worked her talk.

After that she embarked upon reading more on Islam and eventually converted. In 1933 had a journey  to Mecca for a  Hajj pilgrimage  for the first time, and because there were Europeans who visited Saudi Arabia before her and who were non Muslims, penetrated into Mecca and when returning to Europe, they wrote about their daring adventure of performing the hajj as a non muslim, because of this, there were restrictions in place for Europeans, but Lady Evelyn who had adopted the name Zainab was granted permission to perform the Hajj.

This was aptly described by her in her diary of the first time she saw the Kabah and tawaf. “We walk on the smooth marble towards the Holy of Holies, the House of Allah, the great black cube rising in simple majesty, the goal for which millions have forfeited their lives and yet more millions have found heaven in beholding it … the ‘Tawaf’ is a symbol, to use the words of the poet , of a lover making a circuit round the house of his beloved, completely surrendering himself and sacrificing all his interests for the sake of the Beloved. It is in that spirit of self-surrender that the pilgrim makes the ‘Tawaf’.”

Her book Pilgrimage to Mecca in 1934 is the first Hajj account by an English woman and her diary also is the oldest record of a trip in hajj taking place via a car from Mina to Arafat.

She was well travelled during her lifetime and she also wrote another book, ‘Kenya: Land of Illusion’ .


During the world wars, the Muslims that fought for Britain were spending and praying their Eid prayer in Woking Mosque, she was amongst some of the aristocrats in the iconic Eid prayer picture at Woking mosque. Cobbold was heavily involved in Dawah like William Quilliam amongst the noble English men and women of the time.

She spoke Arabic fluently and always claimed she had been Muslim all her life and there was no moment she converted. “Islam,” Evelyn later wrote, “is the religion of common sense.” as she described aptly.

Lady Evelyn’s story about her life, her conversion and her pilgrimage to Mecca are all recorded in her diaries which have recently been republished. “She was a very lively, eccentric Anglo-Scot Moslem, who loved doing things and loved people as well,” said Major Hope-Cobbold, her great grandson speaking about her.

Lady Evelyn died in 1963 and was buried, as she instructed, on a remote hillside on her Glencarron estate in Wester Ross. There was no Muslim in all of Scotland to perform her Janazah so they made contacts with Woking Mosque and the Imam drove up in the snow to perform her janazah because she had stipulated she wanted to be buried on a hill on her estate facing Mecca with the following words on her gravestone: “Allahu nur-us-samawati wal ard” (“Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth”).

Zainab Cobbold is buried at her estate in Inverness and stands out as one of the noble souls who accepted and raised awareness about Islam in the United Kingdom.


Information Culled From: WWikipedia


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