The First Scottish Muslimah – Zainab Cobbold

Lady Zainab Cobbold

I read about this woman some time ago and it only recently occurred to me that I should write about her on my blog seeing as she was the first Scottish Muslimah – that we know about.

She was born as Lady Evelyn Murray, becoming Cobbold when she married, and later became known as Zainab. She was born in Edinburgh in 1867. Throughout her childhood, her father took her family to North Africa every winter, spending half her upbringing in Algiers and Cairo. There she learned to speak Arabic and loved keeping company with the local children, visiting mosques with them and was tended to by Muslim nannies.

Zainab later claimed that she had no recollection as to when she first became Muslim and felt that she had always been. In fact, she first declared herself as a Muslim when she met the Pope.

“Some years went by and I happened to be in Rome staying with some Italian friends when my host asked if I would like to visit the Pope. Of course I was thrilled…. 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 Moslem. 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.”

An extract from her book ‘Pilgrimage to Mecca’ on the matter of when she became Muslim.

She was friends with fellow convert to Islam, Marmaduke Pickthall (who translated the Qur’an to English), from 1915. There were also a series of letters in correspondence with Arab friends in North Africa and Syria, who referred to her as ‘our sister in Islam’, showing that she seemed to be Muslim at this stage.

It seems that Zainab’s relationship with, and conversion to, Islam had an effect on the relationship with her family and more specifically, her marriage. She and her husband separated in 1922. Following his death in 1929; she began seriously pursuing the prospect of being able to perform Hajj. 

Zainab became the first Muslim woman born in Britain to perform Hajj; not only this but she also wrote a book of her accounts and this was published – Pilgrimage to Mecca. Zainab was aged 65 when she performed Hajj in 1933.

“Today the news has come through that I am permitted to do the pilgrimage to Mecca and visit Medina. I had for so long lived in alternate fits of hope and despair, that I can scarcely credit that my great wish is at last to be fulfilled.”

Zainab also wrote a book entitled Wayfarers in the Libyan Desert, which was about her travels in Egypt with a female companion in 1911.

Zainab died 30 years after she performed Hajj and was buried in accordance with her faith, in remote and beautiful Inverness. Her gravestone reads: “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.”

The Victorian era produced more converts than we may realise. People who travelled or lived abroad; people working in the military or posted in a job in one of the countries Britain colonised. These converts were regarded as eccentric and educated by the general population and media.

Today’s era; migration and globalisation has brought other cultures and religions to our doorstep. The number of people, especially women, converting to Islam is rising. Converts today however, tend to be regarded and branded as brainwashed and thoughtless. An unfortunate change in attitudes.

What must it have been like to be a revert Muslim in those times… Were people curious rather than suspicious? Muslims are in the minority in this country now but in comparison it must have felt lonely in that era. Zainab experienced difficulties in her relationships with her family, as many reverts do today, but without a wide Muslim community to support and welcome her. 

People think conversion to Islam is something new and scary but in fact Islam has had a relationship with this country for an age. Going back to the crusades there have been British converts – we just don’t get taught about these things. 



  1. Wow, my goodness, I would never have supposed that back in the day a person would revert to Islam – the impression I always get from novels and historical accounts is an inherent disdain of the West towards the Eastern religions and ways of life. This is a wonderful, uplifting, brilliant post. It’s so curious, I am tempted to find out more about these converts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was so surprised as well when I first found out! It definitely seems as though converting to Islam in the west is a very new thing so it was really interesting finding out the contrary, I just had to share! Glad you enjoyed the post and yeah definitely worth finding out more about this topic!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this article!! #MoreOfThesePlease … it’s so interesting to hear about Lady Zainab! I had no idea about her but I didn’t realise that she was the first British Muslim to perform Hajj Subhan’Allah!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww thank you so glad you liked it! Definitely want to look more into reverts from previous eras and different countries! Yeah she was the first British Muslim woman, there were a few Victorian male reverts who performed hajj before her. SubhanAllah

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is phenomenal! I can’t believe I’ve never heard of her! It’s so important to cherish and acknowledge the shoulders upon which we stand….I second the comment above❤️ Also, I wanted to ask you a quick question, (since you seem very well versed in the era, and all things I’m obsessed with learning about 😉 do you have any book recommendations on experiences as such, Muslims in the Victorian era etc. or anything you feel is a must read about that time? I really like asking others for ‘book direction’ from time to time as our experiences are so varied, who knows what gem of a book I’d find😄 I’d be ever so grateful if you had the time🌹 Jazakillahu Khairan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree, I absolutely loved reading and learning about her I just had to share it! So glad you enjoyed it as well! 🙂 aww well I’d definitely read the two books she wrote herself but other than that I don’t really know about books in this area; I definitely want to find out more books on this subject though so if I find any I will let you know insha’Allah ☺️❤


      • Aw thank you 🙂 Sounds wonderful, inshaAllah! Yes, I’ll definitely find those two… I actually went scavenging through some of our bookshelves after I read this, and I found one of my dad’s books called ‘A Muslim in Victorian America ~ The Life of Alexander Russell Webb’, it’s across the pond, but it seems to be pretty interesting (Although I must admit, some of it is a bit over my head) 😛 But it is rather fascinating and…. Lady Zeinab is mentioned in it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aww wow really Subhan’Allah! That definitely sounds interesting though. I know what you mean, ohh wow I’m curious to read it now! That’s so nice she was mentioned in it! Thanks for sharing that, will check that book out insha’Allah ☺☺


  4. This was nice to read! and I loved the part that someone said Islam is the religion of common sense and what children would do if left alone. Exactly, ma sha Allah.
    May Allah bless our sister Zainab with the highest Jennatul Firdaus, ameen. She is an inspiration to us all to be firm on faith even if we are the only one with “common sense”!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. SubhanAllah so interesting! Like someone said above, I had always assumed the Victorian attitude toward Islam to be quite disdainful. Maybe that is just how it gets told through a modern Islamophobic lens…I definitely need to go have a look at the books she wrote, and if you don’t mind I’d love to reblog this over on my site! Jazakum Allahu khairan for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I found it so interesting as well! Exactly, that’s what I assumed as well and it’s not surprising since we never had anything to go on otherwise. It seems there were quite a few men in the Victorian era who converted and they were regarded quite highly and certainly weren’t treated how reverts are today. Obviously they still must have had struggles in their personal relationships but society as a whole was different. The gentleman who translated the Qur’an sent copies to Queen Victoria and she apparently enjoyed it! Aww yeah of course sis that would be lovely! Wa iyyaki sis and thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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