Going for a 10-kilometer hike up Glen Carron highland could be a challenging journey for many. But for some British Muslim converts, the journey to the grave of a Victorian aristocrat is worth the tiredness.
This journey is organized by The Convert Muslim Foundation, a UK-based charity which provides support networks for new Muslim converts.
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“Ever since I heard about Lady Evelyn, I’ve been interested in her story,” the group founder Batool Al-Toma, herself a convert from Ireland, told BBC.
“She was quite a formidable lady who never let herself be sidelined just because she was a woman.”
Lady Zainab Cobbold was born in Edinburgh in 1867. She had an interesting childhood. Her family went to North Africa every Winter spending time in Algiers and Cairo.
Lady Cobbold learned Arabic and spent time with Muslim children and was tended to by Muslim nannies. She would love to visit the mosques with her Muslim friends. She felt she was a little Muslim at heart.
Her declaration of being a Muslim came at a surprising moment when she met the Pope. He asked her if she was Catholic and she was taken aback before replying that she was Muslim.
Zainab became the first woman born in Britain to perform Hajj in 1935. She was 65 years old. She died 30 years after fulfilling her dream.
Prayers & Tears
One of those making the journey to Lady Zainab’s grave is Yvonne Ridley, a journalist who embraced Islam after being captured by the Taliban in 2001.
“I started reading more about this remarkable Scottish woman, so Batool and I decided we would get a group of converts to Islam and come out and make a pilgrimage to her graveside,” she said.
Reaching her grave after the long journey, the group gathered around the tombstone on their knees. In a moving moment some said prayers to the lady while others were brought to tears.
Hitting the road back, the travelers were invited to the mosque in Inverness for food and a chance to reflect on the journey they had made.
Though she was exhausted by the walk, Ridley felt the prayers by the grave had been “spiritually moving”.
“There was a stag which appeared on the hill above her graveside which was quite symbolic and moving,” she said.
“This was a woman whose heart was in the Highlands, but was also very immersed in Islam.”
Al-Toma agrees that Lady Evelyn was a model of how new converts could hold onto their identity and culture.
“She is very important to converts here,” she adds.
“I’m happy to have read her book and made this walk as I admire her courage, bravery and sense of adventure. She was a real trailblazer.”
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.’