Was Michael Jackson Muslim and His Islamic Burial
“May Allah be with you Michael, always.” – Jermaine Jackson said while announcing Michael Jackson’s death and the comment launched a million Muslim hopes about MJ’s connection to Islam; hopes which this article argues are fairly unfounded.
The death of pop sensation, Michael Jackson, 50, has been such a massive global event that the internet slowed and in some cases shut down altogether.
One of the surprising traffic trends that I have noticed are the amount of Muslims from all over the world storming Muslim web-sites in the West hoping to a) find out whether all the rumors about Jackson being a Muslim were true and therefore whether he would receive a Muslim janaza or funeral prayer and b) wishing him well in loquacious ways. The question of Jackson’s relation to Islam is on the mind of many Muslims and a considerable number of them are either hopeful or convinced that he did convert. Therefore, I figured I would look into the matter a little bit. Most of my investigation has revealed that Jackson was not a Muslim and in fact most of the Muslim personalities who were allegedly responsible for his conversion all deny the possibility as well.
At Talk Islam, for example, a relatively small website that usually focuses on political and intellectual issues, the Michael Jackson thread is filling up considerably faster than most of the regular threads, and the comments have a distinctly international and English-is-not-very-good flavor to them. For example, a commentator named Serhat writes: “I hope he is converted to Islam bevor he died and rescued himself Insallah.God rest his soul.” Another commenter writes in Urdu: “agar oh musalman tha tu Allah usko jannat ata farmawe” (If he was in fact a Muslim I hope God grants him Paradise). I spoke with Aziz Poonawalla, a Beliefnet contributor and one of the founders of Talk Islam, and he confirms that most of the comments in the MJ thread are not from regulars.
In the Muslim world Jackson was very well received and never lost his iconic stature. He was so loved that rumors of his conversion to Islam had been in existence for countless years. (I heard them in Pakistan when I was growing up there in the 80’s).
These rumors probably began as a case of Muslim wishful thinking — which I previously analyzed and refer to as Muslamism — whereby every famous person, from Shakespeare, to Napoleon, to Will Smith, to Jackson, is turned into a Muslim. (Recently the wish seems to be stronger if the individual happens to be black).
All these rumors probably gained steam sometime after 1989 when Jermaine Jackson, Michael’s brother, reportedly converted to Islam. He has spoken at length on the subject.
They became more insistent when after his acquittal for child molestation charges Michael left the United States and settled in the Persian Gulf through the support of the Bahraini royal family — who paid his millions of dollars in legal fees and entered into a failed business venture with him.
As far as many Muslims were concerned, Michael’s decision to settle in a Muslim country and make a number of appearances in a burqa pretty much sealed the deal of his presumably inevitable conversion.
After such images it did not take very long for western media like the NY Sun and NY Post to declare that Michael Jackson had converted to Islam at a ceremony in L.A. and changed his name to “Mikaeel” (Arabized version of Michael and the name of one of the four major angels of Islam).
The news story was immediately slammed by Jackson’s representatives:
Jackson’s New York lawyer, Londell McMillan, took the opportunity to trash a British press report that Jackson has become a Muslim. “That’s rubbish. It’s completely untrue,” McMillan told reporters.
Still, because the idea of Jackson being a Muslim was just so difficult to give up, many Muslim leaders bought into the account. Just yesterday Imam Zaid Shakir, a traditionalist leader in the United States wrote: “A good friend who is a reliable source of information called and said that Michael had become Muslim. He had been working on an album with the well-known Muslim musician, Dawud Warsby, and another Muslim performer, and the two, sensing Michael’s troubled and depressed state had invited him to Islam. He accepted their invitation. Michael was no stranger to the religion, having been exposed to it by his brother Jermaine, who had converted to the faith in 1989.”
Unfortunately for Zaid Shakir’s “reliable source” the account is not correct. At his blog Dawud Wharnsby reveals that he had never even met Michael Jackson.
Lastly – many have been in touch with me over the past year to inquire about my personal relationship with Michael Jackson. A November 21, 2008 Sun (UK) article spread internationally stating that Michael had adopted the religion of Islam through friendship with both myself and my colleague Idris Phillips during recording sessions in Los Angeles.
For the record: Though our professional circles did cross-over slightly with various common professional acquaintances – I never had the honour or pleasure of meeting Micheal Jackson [sic] personally, nor did we ever correspond on matters of our professions, personal lives or faiths. Now Michael is gone.
There were also rumors that one of the Muslim musicians in attendance at the alleged Los Angeles conversion was Yusuf Islam, formerly, Cat Stevens. However, he has also denied knowing anything about Jackson’s alleged conversion:
Contrary to persistent press rumours, I was not at any kind of conversion ceremony for Michael Jackson. Nor, I believe, was Dawud Wharnsby or any of the others mentioned in connection with the story. Granted, I was in Los Angeles at the time these rumours first appeared – but I was busy filming a video for a new song, Boots & Sand.
I have met Jermaine Jackson, Michael’s older brother, who became a Muslim some years ago. As for Michael himself, I hope that he finds inner peace and can return to making the kind of music that has inspired generations.
In other words a mixture of Muslim wishful thinking, interactions with Arab royals and bad journalism are behind the meme that Jackson was a Muslim.
As for the comment that Jermaine Jackson made at the press conference (“May Allah be with you always, Michael”) that may have nothing to do with Michael’s state of belief, but Jermaine’s own views on spirituality and his preferred way of uttering a blessing.
Perhaps over time it will be revealed that Jackson did convert to Islam. However, if that is the case the account will have to be much clearer and more definitive than it is now. If it is true then Jermaine is probably the right person to reveal the news (and he will probably do it in a book so he can get paid).
Just one final aside on the Michael as Muslim meme: one possible person who may be able to shed great insight into Jackson’s spiritual state is…a rabbi. Apparently Jackson was close friends with Oprah’s favorite rabbi, Shmuley Boteach, and in 2000 Jackson wrote a Beliefnet article entitled “My Sabbath, My Freedom” at the rabbi’s encouragement. In the article Jackson mentions his relationship with a Jewish childhood caretaker named Rose and with the Rabbi, with whose family he seemed particularly close.
In other words: the idea of Michael Jackson as Muslim is probably just Muslamism.