Meet The First British Muslim Woman to Make The Hajj Pilgrimage in 1933

Evelyn Cobbold was a Scottish noblewoman born in 1867. She lived a few years in Algeria as a child. There she learned Arabic and loved to visit local mosques. She later converted to Islam and kept her conversion secret until the day she met with the pope. When he asked her if she was a Catholic she replied that she was a Muslim. Her conversion to Islam may seem unimportant, but at the time it was socially alienating for people who belong to the aristocracy to openly embrace Islam.

Evelyn became friends with other distinguished British Muslims like Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, the famous interpreter of the Quran into English, and Abdullah Quilliam. When she decided to perform the Ḥajj she had to seek special dispensation from Saudi Arabia’s minister in London who wrote to King Abd al-Aziz in Riyadh asking for permission. She kept a personal journal where she documented her journey to Hajj. Here is an excerpt:

“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 …”

She lived through World Wars I and II, travelled through most of the Middle East, and witnessed the fall of the Caliphate. She died in January 1963 and her Janazah was led by the Imam of the Woking Mosque in Glencarron, Scotland. In her will she requested that Surah Nur is read at her funeral. Her grave stone is inscribed with the verse “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.”