Lady Evelyn Cobbold: First British woman to perform Hajj

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London: Born in 1867, Lady Evelyn Cobbold was the first British Muslim woman who converted to Islam and made the pilgrimage to Makkah to perform Hajj and visited the Prophet’s mosque at Madinah in 1933.

Her childhood

Lady Evelyn was a daughter of a well-known Scottish explorer, Lord Dunmore, granddaughter of the Earl of Leicester, and great-niece of the notorious romantic Lady Jane Digby el-Mezrab. Evelyn had spent her childhood winters in North Africa. There she had been instilled with the Muslim way of life and learnt to speak Arabic there. She said that it was during those days when she felt “a little Muslim at heart”. Before and after the First World War, she travelled extensively in Egypt, Syria and Transjordan, and was influenced by the Arab culture and traditions.

She said, ‘I am often asked when and why I became a Muslim. 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 Muslim. This is not so strange when one remembers that Islam is the natural religion that a child left to itself would develop. Indeed, as a Western critic once described it, “Islam is the religion of common sense.”

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She announced her conversion to Islam in front of the Pope; “when his Holiness (Pope) suddenly addressed me asking if I was a catholic, I replied that I was a Muslim. . .”, said Lady Evelyn.

Her Marriage

She married to wealthy John Cobbold in 1891, who was then the High Sheriff of Suffolk. She devoted herself to her Suffolk house and Scottish estate, her gardens, and especially deer-stalking in the Highlands. After her husband’s death in 1929, Lady Evelyn decided to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. At that time, she was in her mid-sixties.

Her Pilgrimage

To go on Pilgrimage, she had to seek special exemption from Saudi Arabia’s Minister in London to perform Hajj. The Minister arranged a formal permission from the Saudi government to allow her to perform Hajj.

In February 1933, she reached Jeddah from Suez in Egypt. While waiting to obtain permission to perform Hajj, she had to stay with a family – where she had to overcome considerable suspicion from other Muslims, who thought that “converts” make pilgrimage only to write about it as a dangerous and sensational adventure. While in Jeddah, she was visited by various officials of the royal court, notably the King’s son, Prince Faisal, who later became the King of Saudi Arabia.

Her book “Pilgrimage to Mecca”

She wrote the book called “Pilgrimage to Mecca” where she described her journey to Hajj: “We walk on the holy of Holies, the House of Allah, rising in simple majesty. It would require a master pen to describe the scene.”
She visited almost all the sites of Islamic significance like Jabal e rahma, Masjid – e – Quba (the first mosque of Islam), Jabal – e-Noor, and many more.

Apart from being a day-to-day journal, her book also reflects the spiritual journey of her faith during her visit to Makkah, Madinah and Mina. During her stay, she observed the lifestyle of Saudi women and their household life. She was the first English writer to give a first-hand description of the life of Arabs in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. Her book was published in 1934.

Lady Evelyn died in 1963 and was buried, according to her wish, on a remote hillside on her Glencarron estate in Wester Ross. She asked to inscribe “Allah is the light of the Heavens and the Earth.” on her tombstone.

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