Born in Edinburgh in 1867 and died in 1963 age 96. She was a British Aristocrat – she was the eldest daughter of Charles Adolphus Murray, 7th Earl of Dunmore and Lady Gertrude Coke, daughter of the Second Earl of Leicester. She grew up in the Middle East with Muslim nannies and learnt Arabic and although never called herself Muslim, she believed she was Muslim. She became a Mayfair socialite. She spent her childhood winters in North Africa where her fascination with Islam developed.
It was only when she visited Italy with a friend and went to see the Pope who asked if she was Catholic, and although she had never thought about Islam for years, she replied by saying she was Muslim. After that she decided to read up more about Islam and eventually converted. In 1933, she travelled to perform Hajj for the first time, and because there were Europeans who visited Saudi Arabia before her and who were not Muslim penetrated into Mecca and when returning to Europe, they wrote about their daring adventure of performing the hajj as a non Muslim, because of this there were restrictions in place for Europeans, but Lady Evelyn who adopted the name Zainab was granted permission to perform the Hajj.
This is her description in her diary of the first time she saw the Kabbah and tawaf. “We walk on the smooth marble towards the Holy of Holies, the House of Allah, the great black cube rising in simple majesty, the goal for which millions have forfeited their lives and yet more millions have found heaven in beholding it … the ‘Tawaf’ is a symbol, to use the words of the poet , of a lover making a circuit round the house of his beloved, completely surrendering himself and sacrificing all his interests for the sake of the Beloved. It is in that spirit of self-surrender that the pilgrim makes the ‘Tawaf’”
Her book pilgrimage to Mecca in 1934 is the first Hajj account by an English Woman and her diary also is the oldest record of a trip in hajj taking place via a car from Mina to Arafat. She travelled widely all her life and also wrote another book, ‘Kenya: Land of Illusion’
During the world wars, the Muslims that fought for Britain were spending and praying their Eid prayer in Woking Mosque, she was amongst some of the aristocrats in the iconic Eid prayer picture at Woking mosque. She was heavily involved in Dawah like William Quilliam amongst the noble English men and women of the time.
She was a fluent Arabic speaker and claimed she had been Muslim all her life and there was no intrinsic moment she converted.
“Islam,” Evelyn later wrote, “is the religion of common sense.” Lady Evelyn’s story about her life, her conversion and her pilgrimage to Mecca are all recorded in her diaries which have recently been republished.
“She was a very lively, eccentric Anglo-Scot Moslem, who loved doing things and loved people as well,” said Major Hope-Cobbold. Her great grandson speaking about her.
Lady Evelyn died in 1963 and was buried, as she stipulated, on a remote hillside on her Glencarron estate in Wester Ross. There was no Muslim in Scotland to perform her Janazah so they contacted Woking Mosque and the Imam drove up in the snow to perform her janazah because she had stipulated she wanted to be buried on a hill on her estate facing Mecca with the following words on her gravestone: “Allahu nur-us-samawati wal ard” (“Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth”) She is buried at her estate in Inverness.
She is part of the British Islamic History, a part of our identity. May Allah (SWT) elevate her status in Jannah and reward her for all her deeds. Ameen