British Muslim Heritage
Death of Sister Fatima Elizabeth Cates

It is our melancholy duty to announce the somewhat sudden demise of one who took a very prominent position in the early propaganda of the Islamic cause in England, namely, our Sister Fatima Elizabeth Coates. It will probably be within the recollection of those who have studied the rise and progress of Islam in England that the first converts were obtained by means of public lectures, which were delivered by Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, and it was by this means that our late sister became connected with and converted to the Faith. In the spring of 1887 the Sheikh gave a lecture under the auspices of a a Society called the ‘Liverpool Temperance League,’ at Vernon Hall, Liverpool, and through that address secured his first convert – Bro. J. Ali Hamilton. On the following Wednesday the Sheikh gave the same discourse, under the auspices of the Birkenhead Workingmen’s Temperance Association, in the Queen’s Hall, Birkenhead, and among his audience was a young lady who was officially connected with the society named, and also with the Good Templar Order in Cheshire. By a happy fortune Bro. Ali Hamilton was also amongst the audience, and was seated next to the lady in question. During the progress of the lecture the lady evinced the greatest interest in what the speaker was saying, and, whilst the lecturer was being heartily applauded at the conclusion of his address, she happened to turn to Bro. Ali Hamilton and remark, ‘I never knew that Muhammadans were teetotallers. I should like to know something more about their religion.’ Bro. Ali Hamilton, with all the ardour of a new convert, commenced to explain Islam to her, and begged of her to speak to the Sheikh at the close of the meeting, and ask him for further particulars. This she did, and in order to explain Islam fully, the Sheikh lent her his Koran and wrote a short explanatory treatise for her with reference to the Faith. His letters to her were afterwards extended into a lecture, and subsequently published in book form, and issued under the title of ‘The Faith of Islam,’ while the lecture he had delivered, and which secured him his first two converts was also published in book form under the title of ‘Fanatics and Fanaticism.’ In the month of June the converts had increased to four, and then the first Muslim society in England was instituted, Mr. Quilliam being chosen president, Mr Hamilton secretary, and Mrs. Cates treasurer. Meetings were held every Friday for prayers and reading and studying the Koran, and another meeting was arranged for Sunday evenings for public lectures to explain the Faith. At all of these meetings Sister Cates, then Sister Murray, was a constant attendant, and she soon made herself felt as an earnest worker for Islam.

It is impossible to describe the manner in which these Islamic converts were derided, the insults and indignities to which they were subjected, and the personal violence that was ofttimes used against them. The windows of the little hall in which they held their meetings were repeatedly broken with stones, and roughs and Christian bigots frequently entered the room and made disturbances therein; while, in the street, the Muslims were stoned and pelted with decayed vegetable matter and rotten eggs, and followed by a crowd shouting after them. On several occasions, ruffians, unworthy of the name of men, lifted up horse manure from the road and rubbed it over our late sister’s face. She endured it all, despite the fact that at the time every member of her family was bitterly opposed to her attending the meetings, and were horrified at the thought that she should have rejected Christianity. Time rolled on, and by the February of 1889 the little band had increased to 20 members, among other converts being the Rev. David Grundy, formerly of the Primitive Methodist communion; and Sister Cates had induced a young man, to whom she was afterwards married, to also declare himself a Muslim. Her husband, Bro. Hubert Haleem Coates, was a marine chief engineer, making fortnightly trips between Liverpool and Lisbon, in Portugal, and he manifested a lively interest in Islamic work, and Muslim visitors to Liverpool were often entertained at their house. The first Indian students who came to England boarded with her. In process of time a younger sister of Mrs. Cates became a convert to Islam, and was, later on, married to a young Indian Muslim gentleman named Syed Abdul Haleem, and she is at present residing with her husband in India, and we believe their union has been most happy and been blessed with three children. Another sister of Mrs. Cates also married an Indian gentleman, a barrister-at-law, and she has one child. Up to the time of his death, which occurred in the month of January, 1896, Bro. Cates always attended the services at the Mosque throughout the periods he was on shore, and he read several papers before the Literary and Debating Society, his wife taking a deep interest in the work. The union was only blessed with one child, a boy, who was born about five months after his father’s death, and who is now, therefore, left parentless. After her husband’s death Mrs. Cates removed to West Kirby, where she supported herself and her son by keeping a boarding house and letting furnished apartments. For the last two years she did not enjoy good health, and in consequence of the distance she lived out of town, and the necessity of attending to her household duties, she did not visit the Mosque regularly, but her interest in the same never flagged, and she painted a very beautiful vase, ornamenting it with flowers and a text from the Koran, and presented it to the Institution. This gift stands at present on the platform in the lecture hall.

Some ten days prior to her demise she contracted a severe cold, and on Wednesday, October 24, was too ill to leave her bedroom. At the time it was not contemplated anything was seriously the matter with her beyond an attack of influenza. On Saturday, the 27th ultimo, she was very much worse, and medical aid was called in, but next day she appeared to be much better. On the Monday morning, however, acute pneumonia supervened, and at three o’clock the doctor pronounced that there was no hope. Telephonic message was at once sent to the Sheikh-ul-Islam, who proceeded to the house. Sister Cates was perfectly conscious, and expressed to him her wish to be buried as a Muslim, as she would die in the Faith she had embraced, and further desired him to conduct the funeral service over her grave, and to be guardian to her little boy. Half an hour later she expired.

A few moments before she died our sister raised the index finger of her right hand, and slowly, but clearly, repeated the Kaleema in Arabic, then, putting her hand in that of the Sheikh, she smiled a sweet smile, and said, ‘Good-bye; it is all over,’ and without a struggle peacefully yielded up her breath.

- H. Mustapha Leon, The Crescent, xvi (1901), 298-9.


The funeral of Mrs. Cates took place at Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool, on October 31, and as this was the first interment of a Muslim in those grounds, a not inconsiderable number of Christians assembled to witness the proceedings. The story of the deceased’s unostentatiously useful and devout life did not seem to be unknown, and on every hand there were manifestations of pungent grief and unrestrained sympathy. Conventionalities were conspicuous by their absence. There was no long procession of expensive broughams drawn by silver-bedecked horses; no clamouring crowd anxious to advertise their presence; no carriage laden with a wealth of flowers intended to convey feelings of condolence. Everything was simple, quiet, but beautifully imposing and impressive, and the tout ensemble acted upon non-Muslims as had nothing previously in their recollection. The obsequies were performed just within the Mosque portals and at the graveside in Arabic and English by the Sheikh (Abdullah Quilliam Effendi), and the prayers offered before the committal service were repeated by a company of little fellows from the Medina Home, who were in charge of Captain J. Omar Lester.

It is impossible to depict the scene as it presented itself. The Sheikh was in attendance in what may be coldly described at his official capacity. He was also there as the man who received the deceased lady into the Faith, who throughout his valiant struggle for Islam was ever loyally aided by the woman whose soul had returned to its Maker, and who grasped the kind hand and comforted the pure and holy mind of the beloved creature in the awful moments of transition. Mrs. Cates’s husband was one of the warmest friends of the Sheikh, who watched the career of her child with all the affection and pride of a loving guardian.

Stern winter had lain her relentless hand on the charming flowers and shrubs, and as the cortege made its way slowly along the cemetery path the grounds seemed encompassed with a misty halo as though harmonising with the sorrow of relatives and friends, who found words inadequate to express their feelings. The inspiring, pathetic yet hopeful recitation by the tomb held the group spellbound, and as the Sheikh plaintively uttered the closing syllables his voice became almost inaudible, and the atmosphere waas filled with a reverent solemnity that overcame the sensations. The Sheikh gazed down on the thin, plain coffin which encased the remains of a pious woman, a true wife, an adoring mother – remains of a woman who had fulfilled, if ever one did, God’s mission on earth; the tiny, parentless boy stood awed by the brink of the grave; the fond and aged mother sobbed and trembled as the daughter’s corpse disappeared – there were a few dry eyes, but only a few.

The chief mourners included Mrs. Murray (mother of the deceased), Master Haleem Cates (son), Mr. C. and Mrs. Duckett (brother-in-law and sister), the Misses Polly and Aggie Murray (sisters), Mrs. Ghoosh (sister) and Miss Enid Ghoosh (niece), Mr. and Mrs. W. Ismail Winter, Master and Miss Winter, Mrs. Bertha Amina Smith, Dr. H. Mustapha Leon and Professor H. Nasrullah Warren, F.S.C.

Geo. Henry Green, The Crescent, xvi (1901), 299-300. | British Muslim Heritage