We will pray for the saint in a backless Versace dress

Muslims, too, have been deeply moved by Diana's death. Fuad Nahdi explains why

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The most photographed woman in the world remains an enigma to most Muslims. As the world prepares to bury the people's princess, imams, scholars and ordinary Muslims in the street are struggling to ascertain what exactly her status and legacy were, and how best to remember her. The extent of her influence, from the Hindu Kush mountains to the deserts of Arabia and the fountains of the Taj Mahal, is hard to measure.

To cancerous children in Pakistan, she was a blonde angel who brought the gift of smiles and attention. To glamour publications in the Muslim languages, from Turkish to Urdu, Malay and Arabic, she was the epitome of beauty, style and grace - and the secret to phenomenal circulation. To the princesses in the harems, she was the queen of fashion: her every dress, her hairstyle, her walk - all were worthy of emulation. One of the better kept secrets of the Muslim monarchies are the scores of devoted Diana-lookalikes living in the royal palaces.

Condolences have poured in from the most unlikely quarters - from Afghan Taliban guerrillas, hardly known for their woman-friendliness or love of royalty, to hard-core Palestinian activists and Bosnian Muslim soldiers touched deeply by her anti-landmine stance. Besides beauty and charm, Diana's biggest asset was that she seemed to stand above politics or ideology.

Yet the ambiguities, the paradox she embodied, loom large in the prurient Muslim consciousness. Muslims warmed to her humanitarian acts, her genuine desire to generate compassion for those in need, but were warded off by a lifestyle that seemed incompatible with her stature. Many find it difficult to come to terms with a saint in backless Versace. Still, in a strange way the image of the princess was always somehow beyond religion and was, some could argue, Muslim-friendly, because her acts of charity encompassed individuals and causes from all parts of the worldwide Muslim community.

At the same time, however, British Muslims empathised with a different Diana. Many, themselves victims of another kind of alienation, felt they had a profound affinity with a woman marginalised by the Establishment. Diana wanted to be a royal in her own way, just as most Muslims in this country want to be British in their own way.

It is also with some bemusement that British Muslims watch the Janus- faced British media rush to canonise her before she is finally laid to rest on Saturday. For it was only days ago that every effort was made to run the Princess down, when her every mistake or misdemeanour (including having chosen a Muslim partner) was the cue for another bout of derision, when she was as near to being a saint as Baroness Thatcher.

Death may be the Great Leveller, but if anything, the passing away of Diana and Dodi has highlighted the different ways death can be handled: it can be an event of national catharsis, or a more dignified occasion of private grief. Their lives may have come together, with some Muslims even hoping for a Jemima Khan-style conversion, but in their deaths, Diana and Dodi parted ways. The belief that death shall have no dominion, that Diana's Memorial Fund will keep her alive in this world contrasts with the Muslim view that Dodi has moved on into the after-life, and his family's concern is to increase his status in that world.

Of course the possibilities opened up by a Dodi-Diana union ended with the tragic accident. The dignified and appropriate manner in which the Al Fayeds dealt with Dodi's funeral has greatly enhanced the family's stature within the community. It has also brought hope that the experience would make the fabulously rich owner of Harrods closer to the local, deprived British Muslim community: Dodi's father is to be mentioned as one of the funders of the report on Islamophobia produced by the Runnymede Trust, which is to be launched later this month.

With her death, Diana has entered Muslim folklore. Before even being buried she is now at the centre of a major conspiratorial yarn spun by no lesser person than Colonel Mu'ammar Gaddafi. According to the Libyan leader, Diana's death is no accident but the outcome of a conspiracy planned by both the British and French intelligence services. It is a theory that has already found many believers, including sections of the ferocious Egyptian press.

Yet Saturday, the day designated for Diana's funeral and a national day of mourning, is to see the first multi-faith memorial service held by the British state, so perhaps her passing will lead to a concretisation of the bridge-building process she liked to be a part of.

In a famous Prophetic narration, it is said that God chastises man with the words: "O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not." He will say: "O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds?"

He will say: "Did you not know that My servant, So-and-so, had fallen ill? And you visited him not. Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him?"

The thoughts and prayers of the entire Muslim community are at the moment with the living. Friday prayers all over the country this week will include invocations for patience, solace and guidance for Princes William and Harry, and for Prince Charles. For many a conscientious imam, an extra prayer will be for another to spring up and continue the good work undertaken by Diana, Princess of Wales. At the moment this seems difficult, for she is a "unique person". However, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Or as the Holy Book puts it, "From Him we come, and to Him we return".

Fuad Nahdi is the editor of Q-News, a Muslim magazine.

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