Zainab Cobbold, previously known as Lady Evelyn Murray, was the first Scottish Muslim woman to perform Hajj. She accepted Islam when it was not widely popular in The UK.
She was born in Edinburgh on 17 July 1867. She was the eldest daughter of Lady Gertrude Coke and Charles Adolphus Murray. Her father took her family to North Africa every winter during her childhood, where her attraction to Islam developed. She spent most of her childhood in Algiers and Cairo in the company of Muslims. There she learned to speak Arabic and became a fluent speaker of Arabic language. She loved keeping company with the local children and visited mosques with them. She believed that she was a Muslim from a young age, but in 1915, Evelyn confirmed that she had accepted Islam as her religion. After which, she changed her name from Evelyn to Zainab.
Lady Evelyn married John Dupuis Cobbold in All Saints’ Church Cairo, Egypt, on 23 April 1891. The couple had three children between 1893 to 1900, namely Winifred Evelyn, Ivan Cobbold, and Pamela Cobbold. Lady Evelyn Cobbold’s journey to Zainab Cobbold was not easy as she had to face many hardships. It also impacted her relationship with her family as they didn’t accept her as Muslim. Especially with her husband, which later became the reason for their separation in 1922. After the separation, Zainab Cobbold started living in London.
Zainab once went to Rome, which is Italy’s capital, and stayed with her Italian friends. During her stay, her friend asked if she wanted to see the Pope. Of course, she was thrilled at this question and immediately agreed. When she went to meet Pope, he asked her if she was Catholic. She got blank for a moment and didn’t know what to answer. After thinking about it for a bit, she replied that she was Muslim. Although she had never thought about conversion to Islam for years and had not enough knowledge about Islam. But she was so inspired by the Islamic religion, as she heard about Islam from a young age that she chose to admit that she was a Muslim. From that moment, she decided to explore Islam and to learn more about this religion. When she started to read more about Islam, her interest developed, and she eventually accepted Islam as a religion. The day she reverted to Islam, she made a wish to visit Mecca and perform Hajj.
According to her, Islam is the religion of common sense and the only religion that gives us a complete guideline on how we should spend our lives. She believed that Islam brings humanity, peace and provides us justice. Later in her life, she also claimed that she felt that she was always a Muslim.
After her husband died in 1929, she started to plan her pilgrimage to Mecca, and she was 62 years old at that time. She contacted Hafiz Wahba, who was the ambassador of the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd to the United Kingdom. Hafiz Wahba in turn sent a letter to King ‘Abd al- ‘Aziz.
In 1933, Lady Evelyn or we can say Zainab Cobbold became very popular when she became the first British Muslim woman to make a pilgrimage to Mecca who was born in the United Kingdom. Her passion for Islam was that she went all the way to perform Hajj at the age of 65.
When Zainab performed Hajj, there were some restrictions for Europeans to enter Mecca, but since she adopted the name Zainab, she was granted permission to perform the Hajj. When she could enter Mecca, she claimed that it felt like her greatest wish had been fulfilled at last.
Zainab Cobbold wrote a book on her pilgrimage to Mecca, and this was the first book ever, written by an English woman on Hajj. It was published in 1934 and called “Pilgrimage to Mecca.” In her book, she discussed how and when she became Muslim and how she performed Hajj. Also, she uses the wording of the poet and stated that ‘Tawaf’ is a symbol of a lover who walks around the house of his beloved, sacrificing all his concerns and giving himself completely for the sake of his Beloved.
Besides, she was a lively person too who was fond of nature and had a great love for traveling. In this regard, she also wrote another book entitled Wayfarers in the Libyan Desert, which was about her travels in Egypt with a female companion.
Zainab died in Scotland at the age of 96. Almost 30 years after she performed Hajj. When she died, there was no Muslim in Scotland who could perform her Janazah, so they contacted Woking Mosque. She wished to be buried on a hill on her estate, facing Mecca. So, the Imam of the Mosque drove all the way up on the mountain to perform her Janazah. Also, it was her wish to engrave these words on her gravestone:
“اللَّهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ” which means,
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.”
In the end, we just want to say that she was a woman of noble qualities and was a lady of true inspiration for all of us. Even if the odds were not in her favor, she did not give up and continued her journey as a faithful believer in Islam. Even today, we can learn a lot from the life of Zainab Cobbold. She did not let anything, or anyone come between her and her religion and stood boldly and fearlessly in front of her family. She believed in Islam and remained focused, how she thought that it was always within her and how she fearlessly came forward as a Muslim – her life and her experiences give us a lesson that if we remain determined and trust our Creator, we can achieve anything in life.