The aristocrat who converted to Islam and inspired a pilgrimage to a lonely Highland mountain

Lady Evelyn Cobbold is believed to have been the first British woman to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, with the noblewoman undertaking the Hajj in 1933 aged 65, later documenting her travels in a book.

Now, the journey to her final resting place on her former estate in Glencarron recently became a spiritual undertaking for a group of Muslim converts, many who traveled from England to make the six-hour return journey on foot in classic Highland wind and rain. A call to prayer was made on the hillside, and prayers said close to Lady Evelyn’s grave.

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The pilgrimage was organized by Btool Al-Toma, of Leicester, founder Director of the Convert Muslim Foundation.

Among those who took part was journalist Yvonne Ridley, who was captured and imprisoned by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and who later converted to Islam.

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Ms Ridley, who lives in the Scottish Borders, said: “Since I read her book, I have been absolutely fascinated by her and I wanted to make the trip, say my salaams and acknowledge her. She is a remarkable woman.

“The grave is where two mountains appear to meet and what was particularly poignant was when I looked up and there was a stag standing just a few yards from her grave. The journey was very tough for all of us but it was also symbolic of the spiritual journal a lot of us have made. It hasn’t been easy and there have been challenges.”

Lady Evelyn Cobbold, who later took the name Zainab. She is buried in an isolated spot on her former estate de ella at Glencarron in Wester Ross. PIC: YouTube.

Lady Evelyn, who later took the name Zainab, was born in Edinburgh in 1867 and spent long periods of her childhood North Africa, where her father, Charles Adolphus Murray, 7th Earl of Dunmore – a Lord in Waiting in Disraeli’s government and Lord Lieutenant of Stirlingshire – took his family for winters.

Immersed in Arabic life and tradition from a young age, she later wrote of living in a Moorish villa outside Algiers and the joy of escaping her governess on trips to mosques with friends.

“Unconsciously, I was a little Moslem at heart,” she later wrote.

Lady Evelyn spent large parts of her childhood in North Africa and wrote that she was unconsciously “a little Moslem” from a young age. PIC: YouTube.

The first time she identified as a Muslim was during a meeting with the Pope, no less, while on holiday to Italy. She documented the encounter with the Pontiff in her book, Pilgrimage to Mecca, published in 1934.

“When His Holiness suddenly addressed me, asking if I was a Catholic, I was taken aback for a moment and then replied that I was a Muslim. A match was lit and I then and there determined to read up and study the faith.

“The more I read and the more I studied, the more convinced I became that Islam was the most practical religion. Since then I have never wavered in my belief that there is but one god.”

Lady Evelyn separated from her husband, with whom she had three children, in 1922, and received land at Glencarron, where her deerstalking skills were widely admired. Following the death of her husband in 1929, she made the journey to Mecca after being granted permission by King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia.

Lady Evelyn Cobbold (pictured right) is believed to have been the first British woman to have made the pilgrimage to Mecca, undertaking Hajj in 1933 when she was aged 65. PIC: You Tube.

When Lady Evelyn died in 1963, a piper, apparently frozen stiff in the January weather, played MacCrimmon’s lament while the “Light” Surah from the Qur’an was recited in Arabic. A verse from the same Surah is etched on her grave.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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