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Anonymous for 120 Years, Headstone Installed at Grave of UK First Female Convert

Though her name might be unknown to many UK Muslims, Fatima Elizabeth Cates took a very prominent position in the early spread of Islam in the UK as the first British woman to convert to Islam.

She will no longer be anonymous after a headstone was installed at the grave of the Liverpool woman which remained unmarked since the Victorian era.

“Even though she was only 35 when she died, the impact and legacy she’s left is really huge,” Amirah Scarisbrick, a mum from Toxteth who converted to Islam, told Liverpool Echo.

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“Even though she’s from the 1800s, her struggle is our struggle, and I’m sure her struggle was much harder. She’s so inspiring. If you think now, we have access to scholars from all over the world, we have information at our fingertips. She didn’t have the luxury of any of that.

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“She was the first to become Muslim, the first woman in Liverpool. When I became Muslim, there was already an established community there, so she’s inspiring on so many levels because she was the first in much more difficult times.”

Cates converted to Islam in the spring of 1887 after attending a lecture by Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam.

New Headstone

Since 1900, her body lay in an unmarked grave in Anfield cemetery till last Friday when a headstone was erected before evening prayers. This was thanks to the £1,700 raised in 24 hours on GoFundMe by Scarisbrick.

“We said some prayers by the graveside and I was thinking she’ll be thinking, ‘What’s this disruption? The grave’s been quiet for 120 years and there’s somebody knocking me about’,” Scarisbrick said.

Amirah and other members of Liverpool’s Muslim community decided to inscribe Fatima’s headstone with the final verse of a poem she wrote in 1892.

The headstone reads: “Then may we ever heed, the warning God has given, that so we may in safety tread the road that leads to Heaven.”

Visiting graves is allowed in Islam. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

I forbade you to visit graves, but you may now visit them, for in visiting them there is a reminder (of death). (Abu Dawud)

Al Qurtubi quoted that scholars of the past said:

‘The best thing for the hearts, particularly if they are hardened, is to visit cemeteries.’