The New York Post reports today that "Michael Jackson last night became a member of the Nation of Islam." This development takes place in the aftermath of Jackson's being arrested on Nov. 20 in connection with child-molestation charges and now being out on $3 million bail. Comments: (1) This fits a pattern of African-Americans turning to Islam when in trouble. (2) For someone so high profile to convert to Islam could increase the rate of conversions by blacks to Islam. (December 18, 2003)
Michael Jackson during a visit to Bahrain on Aug. 29, 2005, escorted by his royal hosts.
Nov. 24, 2005 update: Michael Jackson was acquitted of child molestation charges on June 13, 2005, and appears not to have converted to the Nation of Islam, but there is more news about his connection to Islam. He moved to Bahrain in October, where his lawyer said he is "living permanently." Sheik Salman ibn Hamed Khalifa, the crown prince of Bahrain, has invited him to be his houseguest and he is living in a spare palace. Now this (with some typos fixed), concerning his funding a mosque:
Michael Jackson, who recently settled down in Manama, has donated a huge amount of money, the figure was not disclosed, for building a state-of-the-art mosque near his luxury palace in the Bahraini capital, according to his spokesman. The proposed mosque would be designated for learning the principles and teachings of Islam as well as teaching of English language, for which high-standard teachers would be brought from United States under his personal supervision, the spokesman said. Jackson did so as a token of appreciation to the Bahraini people, who welcomed him and treated him as if he was one of the citizens of their country. ...
It is noteworthy that Jermaine Jackson, the brother of Michael, had embraced Islam at the beginning of 1990s; he was one of former Jackson Five band and the solo singer. Jermaine had felt his brother Michael has great interest and study of Islamic books, the tolerance of Islam and his dealing with Arab and Muslim personalities since long years. The most prominent among those figures is Prince Al Waleed bin Talal and the Bahraini royal family.
Comment: Michael Jackson's conversion to Islam is the more likely if he spends much time in Bahrain.
Give thanks to Allah,
For the moon and the stars
Prays in all day full,
What is and what was
Take hold of your iman
Dont give in to shaytan
Oh you who believe please give thanks to Allah.
Wa-huwa 'ala kull ash-sha'in qadir
Allah is Ghafur
Allah is Rahim
Allah is the one who loves the muhsinin,
He is our creator
He is our sustainer
And he is the one who has power over all.
Comments: (1) The singer's Arabic pronunciation is letter perfect. (2) Other sources say this was sung by Zain Bikha or even by Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens). (3) If this in fact Michael Jackson, it is hard to imagine he is not a Muslim. (4) What are the chances that Michael Jackson recorded this song three years ago, and in a faultless Arabic accent, without anyone noticing? Pretty slim.
Jan. 16, 2006 update: Michael Jackson appears to be settling in in Bahrain. According to a press release issued by AAJ Holdings Ltd., owned by Bahraini businessman Ahmed Abu Bakr Janahi, the 47-year-old Jackson may be hired as a consultant to advise on setting up entertainment businesses. "Stagnant architectural structures need content in the form of entertainment to revive them and that's where Michael Jackson will play an integral role." AAJ has in the past mainly built large urban projects.
Mar. 7, 2006 update: I published a column today on this topic, "If the King of Pop Converts to Islam," where I place Jackson's possible conversion in the context of other African-Americans in trouble doing likewise.
Jan. 29, 2007 update: "Jermaine Jackson wants Michael to convert to Islam" reads the Reuters headline, which quotes Michael Jackson's brother saying that "Michael, I feel, needs to become a Muslim because I think it's a great protection for him from all the things that he's been attacked with, which are false. There's a strength and protection there." Jermaine (aka Mohammed Abdul Aziz) added that he believed his brother had given conversion "serious thought" during long spells in Bahrain. "I was the reason why he had gone there [Bahrain] because I wanted him to get out of America and just go somewhere it's peaceful and quiet and people pray five times a day which is beautiful."
Michael Jackson, going incognito in a Las Vegas bookstore.
Michael Jackson, going incognito in a Las Vegas bookstore.
Dec. 21, 2007 update: Michael Jackson, looking weirder than ever, has turned up with his three children at a late-night visit to a bookstore in Las Vegas, suggesting he has left Bahrain at least temporarily.
Nov. 21, 2008 update: Nearly five years after the first such report in 2003, Jackson is again reported to have converted to Islam. This time, it's Neil Syson writing in the London tabloid, The Sun, with a breathless exclusive, "The way you Mecca me feel."
Michael Jackson has become a Muslim — and changed his name to Mikaeel. The skint superstar, 50, donned Islamic garb to pledge allegiance to the Koran in a ceremony at a pal's mansion in Los Angeles, The Sun can reveal. Jacko sat on the floor wearing a tiny hat after an Imam was summoned to officiate. ... [He] decided to convert as he used a studio at the home of his chum to record a new album.
The star — whose hits include The Way You Make Me Feel — was spotted looking "a bit down" by a producer and a songwriter who had both embraced Islam. The source said: "They began talking to him about their beliefs, and how they thought they had become better people after they converted. Michael soon began warming to the idea. An Imam was summoned from the mosque and Michael went through the shahada." ...
Brit singer Yousef Islam, 60 — who was called Cat Stevens until he famously converted — turned up to help Jacko celebrate. It was his pals David Wharnsby — a Canadian songwriter — and producer Phillip Bubal who counselled Jacko. The pair's new names are Dawud Wharnsby Ali and Idris Phillips. Jacko now prays to Mecca after the ceremony at the Hollywood Hills home of Toto keyboard player Steve Porcaro, 51.
Calvin Broadus, known as Snoop Dog, has joined the Nation of Islam.
Calvin Broadus, known as Snoop Dog, has joined the Nation of Islam.
Mar. 2, 2009 update: I take up the more general topic of "Westerners in Trouble Who Convert to Islam" today in a new weblog entry.
Mar. 24, 2009 update: Michael Jackson's financial troubles have prompted him to sell much of his memorabilia at an auction in Los Angeles in April. But now, report auctioneers Darren Julien and Martin Nolan in affidavits filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, a representative of Jackson's, James R. Weller, met with them on February 9, 2009, and made a veiled threat that the Nation of Islam would do them harm if they didn't desist from the sale. Swears Julien: "During the meeting, Weller told Martin and me that our lives would be in danger if we did not postpone the auction. Weller said if we refused to postpone it, we would be in danger from "Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam; those people are very protective of Michael. ... He told us that Dr. Tohme [R. Tohme, Jackson's manager] and Michael Jackson wanted to give the message to us that 'our lives are at stake and there will be bloodshed'."
June 25, 2009 update: In a massively watched public statement about the death today of Michael Jackson, his brother Jermaine Jackson bid him farewell with a "May Allah be with you always." (The sentence comes at 1:42 at "Jermaine Jackson Issues Statement on Michael Jackson's Death.") June 26, 2009 update: Curiously, the New York Times, that ever-more deficient paper of record, presents Jermaine's statement as "May our love be with you always." June 27, 2009 update: To its credit, the Times ran a correction on this point, acknowledging that it
misstated part of a comment that Mr. Jackson's brother Jermaine offered for Mr. Jackson after speaking with reporters. He said, "May Allah be with you always," not "May our love be with you always."
June 27, 2009 update: I note a change in tune at "Islamists Respond to Michael Jackson's Death."
June 29, 2009 update: Even after Jackson's death, the Nation of Islam tie appears to continue, reports Matthew Moore of the The Daily Telegraph of London:
Grace Rwaramba, the woman he employed to look after his children for more than a decade, is known to have ties to Louis Farrakhan, the charismatic leader of the group. Speaking after Jackson's death, she claimed that he had increasingly fallen under the influence of the Nation, which supplied his bodyguards. Leonard Muhammad, Farrakhan's son-in-law and chief of staff, was appointed to run the King of Pop's business affairs despite a chequered CV including a spell selling unproven Aids treatments in deprived areas of Chicago.
Mrs Rwaramba also alleged that the sect charged Jackson more than £60,000 a month to rent the Bel Air property where he died, when similar houses were on the market for a quarter of the price. The 42-year-old was sacked in December after falling out with Jackson. But she was replaced by another woman from the Nation employed by Jackson's brother Jermaine, a Muslim convert.
Jan. 22, 2010 update: Dressed in a red keffeyeh, Jermaine Jackson, a convert to Islam, gave a nearly hour-long interview on Al-Arabiya television. In the course of it, he asserted that his brother Michael was on the verge of converting to Islam. A Los Angeles Times article with portions of the interview (and links to the video) begins by quoting Jermaine that, after spending time in Bahrain in 2005,
"Michael hired a team that was all Muslim. ... His behavior at the time also showed that he was very close to converting." [Jermaine] Jackson went on to recount to Arab households how the King of Pop was drawn by Islam, saying his brother loved hearing the Muslim call to prayer and eagerly read books on Islam. "I felt that Michael was looking for that divine feeling .... I brought him books from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, from a lot of mosques. He read all of them. He was studying ... he was ready to make that journey. His protection would have been Islam ... he had a very tough life," he said.
When asked by his interviewer whether Michael Jackson ever suggested that he would convert, Jackson implied his brother may have been a Muslim in his heart. "I wished he would have made that announcement. Maybe he made it in his soul ... but at the same time we want to hear it," he said. He added that the amount of time Michael spent in the Middle East and the number of friends he had there also indicated he had embraced Islam.
He only wishes his brother had followed his example and become a Muslim too. Islam, says Jackson, would have saved the King of Pop from many hardships. "I believe that Islam would have helped him a lot. Had he converted, he would have been spared all the problems he had been subjected to throughout his life.".
Comments: (1) This appears to be a definitive answer to the six-year-old question whether Michael Jackson converted to Islam: No, did not. But he was attracted to the religion and, had he lived, perhaps would have taken this step.
(2) Jermaine's emphasis on how conversion to Islam might have saved Michael conforms to the long-existing pattern of American blacks seeing Islam as a solace in times of trouble.
June 24, 2010 update: As the anniversary of Jackson's death approaches, his brother Jermaine Jackson continues with the same theme:
Jermaine Jackson says that he considered himself Michael's "protector" and that the pop star – who died last year, aged 50 – "trusted Islam" even though he did not convert. "I felt that if Michael would have embraced Islam he would still be here today and I say that for many reasons," said Jermaine in an interview to be broadcast on the BBC World Service on Friday. "Why? Because when you are 100 per cent clear in your mind as to who you are and what you are and why you are and everybody around you, then things change in a way that's better for you. It's just having that strength. God is so powerful."
Feb. 25, 2013 update: Janet Jackson, 48 and sister of Michael, secretly married Wissam Al Mana, 37, in 2012 but only revealed it today. Mana, a Muslim Qatari businessman, is said to worth US$1 billion. Comment: This marriage says nothing about Michael's religious affiliation but points again to the siblings' many connections to Islam.
Sep. 20, 2015 update: Janet is taking her conversion to Islam, reports the British Sun, "so seriously that she has even toned down her raunchy costumes and dance moves for her comeback tour. A source told The Sun: 'She feels like she has found a home with her new religion and has told members of her family, who completely respect her choice. She has spent a great deal of time studying the religion and its followers. The days of raunchy dance moves and sexual lyrics are long gone for Janet'." She ends her Unbreakable world tour shows with "Insha'allah," meaning "If Allah wills".