Lady Evelyn Cobbold, a Scottish noblewoman, from the Victorian Era was the first woman from Britain to perform Hajj in 1933. Interestingly, She was not the Christian Lady Evelyn but Muslim Zainab who was granted permission by the minister of Saudi Arabia in Britain.
There was a restriction on Europeans to visit Mecca because many Non-Muslim Europeans had went to Mecca to write their adventure stories not out of any kind of devotion. But Zainab was neither a Non-Muslim and wasn’t on errand to write the adventure story.
She after returning from Hajj decided to write down her experiences on paper so that others may get inspired to follow Islam or use it is a guide in their journey. She writes, “I am in the Mosque of Mecca, and for a few seconds I am lost to my surroundings because of the wonder of it …I had never imagined anything so stupendous…”
The fascination of Islam wasn’t a one-day phenomenon for Cobbold, she was raised in Algeria by Muslim nannies and enjoyed her childhood with Muslim friends whom she was very fond of.
“My delight was to escape my governess and visit the mosques with my Algerian friends, and unconsciously I was a little Muslim at heart…”
No one knew that Cobbold had entered into the folds of Islam when once Pope asked her religion to which she replied Islam. She confirmed her conversion to Islam by 1915, taking the Arabic name Zainab. She remarked that she considered Islam the religion “most calculated to solve the world’s many perplexing problems, and to bring to humanity peace and happiness”.
“What possessed me I don’t pretend to know, as I had not given a thought to Islam for many years. A match was lit, and I then and there determined to read up and study the faith.”
It was after this incident that Cobbold decided to go on the holy journey of Hajj. “We walk on to the Holy of Holies, the house of Allah 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…”
Evelyn achieved celebrity status in 1933 at the age of 65, when she became the first Muslim woman born in the United Kingdom to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca.