Anonymous for 120 years, a tombstone was placed on the grave of the first English woman to convert to Islam

Anonymous for 120 years, a tombstone was placed on the grave of the first English woman to convert to Islam

Exhumed from the oblivion in which she had been unjustly buried since 1900, the year of her premature death, at only 35 years old, Fatima Elisabeth Cates is no longer the illustrious unknown who rested in the Anfield cemetery, in the north -west of Liverpool.

Sadly erased from the memory of her contemporaries and the generations that followed, the memory of the first English woman to convert to Islam, in 1887, was neither engraved in the hearts, nor in the marble of a funerary stele. Yet a most inspiring memory, which disappeared with her, in a grave that remained anonymous for more than a century.

Without the intervention of Hamid Mahmood, 37, the director of a Madrassah in London bearing his name, the luminous memory of the first Christian woman to have answered the call of Allah in Victorian England would undoubtedly be , forever buried in the limbo of history.

Fortunately, this was not the case. Feeling more than anyone else invested with a duty of memorial rehabilitation towards Fatima Elisabeth Cates, born Francess Elisabeth Murray, a woman described as courageous “, in particular to have stood up for what she believed in » throughout his existence, the latter set out in search of his final resting place. He ends up locating it in 2020, where no one had ever looked for it.

Being a Muslim who grew up here, in England, and running a Madrassah intended for Muslim children born here, I wanted, through the beautiful and incredible story of Fatima Elisabeth Cates, to reinforce their feeling of belonging to the land where they were born. explained Hamid Mahmood, this tireless awareness-raiser on the other side of the Channel.

When she was only 22 years old, the whole life of the woman who was still named Frances was turned upside down by a conference she attended and by the eloquence of its speaker, Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, a lawyer from Liverpool. This one, before taking the step of conversion during a stay in Morocco, was called William Quilliam.

Unlike Fatima Elisabeth Cates, history has remembered her name, both as one of the first male subjects to convert to Islam and the founder of one of the first mosques anchored in the heart of England. A small manual on Islam was even requested from him by the royal family of the time.

Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, aka William Quilliam
Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, pictured right, in Liverpool Mosque

Since the end of 2022, thanks to fundraising launched by Amirah Scarisbrick, a British mother who, 122 years later, follows in the footsteps of her great inspiration by having embraced Islam, a tombstone has finally been placed on the burial place of Fatima Elisabeth Cates.

Just imagine, she was the first Englishwoman to become Muslim in the 19th century, she was the first Muslim woman in Liverpool! Although she was only 35 years old when she passed away, the legacy she left behind is priceless and the source of inspiration she represents for the Muslim community is immense », bursts out Amirah Scarisbrick at the mention of the woman to whom she has boundless admiration.

His fight is our fight, and I am sure it was much harder than the one we are fighting today. His example is so strong, impressive and inspiring! “, she added with emotion.

As she emerged from the anonymity to which she had been relegated, the long silence which surrounded the tomb of Fatima Elisabeth Cates was broken by the invocations which now resonate there. Gathered around Amirah Scarisbrick, several members of the Muslim community of Liverpool regularly pay their respects in front of this future high place of remembrance in memory of the pioneer of Islam during the Victorian era, a “faithful servant of Allah” in English society at the end of the 19th century.

As an epitaph on her funerary stele, it is the last verse of a poem, with strong resonance, composed by Fatima Elisabeth Cates in 1892, that the Muslims of Liverpool chose to highlight:

May we always heed the warning that God has given, so that we may safely take the path that leads to heaven.”