BENGALURU: Born Lady Eveyln Murray in 1867, Zainab Cobbold was the first Scottish noblewoman to convert to Islam in the Victorian era. She went on to become the first woman born in the UK to perform the Hajj, in 1933, when she contacted Hafiz Wahba — then ambassador for the Kingdom of Hejaz and Najd to the United Kingdom — who wrote to King Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who granted permission for her to perform her pilgrimage.
Cobbold died aged 96 and was buried on a hill in Scotland, facing Makkah, with words from the Qu’ran engraved on her tombstone.
Cobbold’s remarkable story is just one of many that are available on The Everyday Muslim Heritage and Archive Initiative, a platform that documents Muslim heritage in Britain through photographs, oral histories, films, artifacts, and heritage walks.
For Sadiya Ahmed, founder of The Archive, the project started as a means to connect with her diverse identities. Ahmed wanted to pass on her experience of growing up as a Muslim in Britain to the next generation, but also to document stories of the previous generation.
She came across old photographs of her parents in their youth — a carefree man standing in Trafalgar Square and a young woman by a stream in Nairobi, each with their own ambitions and dreams, before the cultural pressures of migrating to a new country. It inspired her to preserve the “human” story behind the Polaroids.
“Those photographs were pivotal because I could see a generational disconnect,” Ahmed says. Speaking with other communities from diasporas, she realized she wasn’t the only one who felt that way. In 2014, she started crowdsourcing oral histories and personal narratives.
While the scope of The Archive’s work is much wider than oral histories and offers many avenues for community involvement (including exhibitions and classroom resources), the Instagram account generates a lot of engagement from second- and third-generation diaspora communities.
“Social media has opened up a whole world of knowledge which would otherwise have been accessible to only a few, like academics, or in cultural spaces where Arab, South Asian or other communities haven’t been historically represented,” Ahmed says.
“Instagram is a venue that allows people to share bite-sized information without feeling intimidated or out of place,” she adds. While The Archive shares personal narratives of diasporic Muslim communities, it also highlights the role these communities have played in British history.
Their heritage trail, for example, includes a self-guided tour of the oldest Muslim burial grounds in Surrey, where Muslim soldiers from World War II and prominent Muslim thinkers are laid to rest. “It comes back to why it is important for us to document our experiences and…
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