People, especially celebrities, assume a new life after death. And contrary to Mark Anthony’s claim in the play, Julius Caesar, the good that men do is not forgotten. A cynic might say that Anthony was only referring to men, not women. Perhaps. The truth is that excesses of the deceased are often forgotten, only their good deeds, appropriately amplified, are remembered.
This is even more so in the case of celebrities who are kept in the public eye by the ever-intrusive media, especially television. Diana, the princess of Wales, who died in tragic circumstances in Paris on August 31, has already been turned into an icon. Even the British, known for their reserve and stiff upper lip, were shown to have emotions.
Icon she may have become but in real life there was more to Diana than was presented in the tabloid press. They dished out a glamorized version of her, a racy blonde that was seen in the company of rich men once she became free from the shackles of a marriage to prince Charles, the clown prince of Britain.
That Diana helped various charitable causes is commendable. She took up the cause of AIDS sufferers, supported the call for banning land mines and even went to Pakistan to help raise funds for Imran Khan’s cancer hospital. There, according to the Paris daily, Le Monde (August 27, 1997), she took a child suffering from cancer in her arms and held him close to her. The child was seriously ill and died soon thereafter. It must have been a touching scene and an eye-opener for those in Pakistan who have nothing but contempt for the poor.
Diana came through as a very human and caring person. This is all good. There are, however, other dimensions to her life-story. Was she a role-model for other women? What about the countless mothers who have endured similar or worse tragedies? Why are people so impressed by celebrities doing such things and not by ordinary people, for example Mother Teresa or Abdul Sattar Edhi?
Mother Teresa gave 50 years of her life for the service of the downtrodden by bringing herself down to their level and actually living with them. Diana did it only part-time. The rest of her time was spent jet-setting, on boats or having evenings out in ritzy hotels with a playboy Egyptian milionaire. She left her young children at home.
This brings us to the question of her interest in Islam and a potential conversion before her life was so tragically cut short. And was there a conspiracy to kill her, as the Egyptian, Libyan and Iraqi media have claimed?
Both questions have been raised because she was dating Emad (Dodi) el-Fayed. His father, Mohamed, owns the Harrods store in London and has had a tiff with the British establishment for being refused citizenship.
Dodi’s mother Samira was the sister of Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer. Fayed divorced Samira three years later and she died young although Dodi himself was reportedly very close to her. His upbringing was on a grandscale: jet-setting with his uncle, holidaying on his yachts and trying to turn himself into a movie producer in hollywood: typical habits of the spoiled moneyed class.
Muslims, however, appear to have a fixation with celebrities embracing Islam. In early 1983, the Saudis spread a story about Neil Armstrong, the first man to land on the moon, embracing Islam. It was quite fantastic and went something like this. On a world tour after returning from his moon trip, Armstrong heard the adhan when he visited Cairo. Nothing unusual about that. He would have heard the adhan in any Muslim capital.
Upon inquiry, he was told that this was the Muslim call to prayer. He was struck by this because, according to the story, he had heard the same sound when he had landed on the moon! He was so impressed that he embraced Islam.
This story did the rounds globally and we were inundated with calls and letters from around the world. This writer personally contacted Armstrong’s office and spoke to his secretary who very politely explained that although Mr Armstrong had great respect for Islam, he had not become a Muslim. She also revealed that she had received numerous other calls and was at a loss to explain how it all started. In any case, she confirmed in writing Armstrong’s non-conversion for the record.
We cannot get a letter of confirmation from Diana’s secretary for obvious reasons. But we know that she had not become a Muslim. It is inconceivable that Dodi was doing da’wah as he danced cheek-to-cheek with her or raced around, on a yacht in the Mediterranean.
The conspiracy theory about her death needs some elaboration. The argument is that Dodi planned to marry Diana. According to reports, he had already given her a US$204,000 diamond ring before their death. She had given him a pair of gold cuff-links that her late father had left for her. Sure signs of romance there.
That is where the plot thickens. If Diana had married Dodi and they had had children, they would be brothers/sisters of a future king of the United Kingdom. Even if they did not have children, the wife of a Muslim, however nominal, would be the mother of a future king.
The British monarchy could not tolerate a ‘wog’ as the relative of a future king, and a Muslim to boot. Hence the plot to get rid of Diana. This is plausible although we would like to see more proof before jumping to such a conclusion.
Of more pressing concern is the question, why some Muslims have reduced Islam’s validity to the conversion of a few celebrities? Similar stories have been floated about Michael Jackson, Chelsea Clinton and a number of other well-known figures. What are we likely to hear next: the pope’s conversion to Islam?
Muslimedia: October 1-15, 1997