The New York Post reports today that "Michael Jackson last night became a member of the Nation of Islam." Of course, 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.
If this report of his conversion proves to be accurate, it would fit a well-established pattern of African-Americans who, finding their reputation in tatters, turn to the Nation of Islam, which then provides them with solace and help. This phenomenon is most apparent in jails, where blacks since the late 1940s have been converting in large numbers. Famous converts in trouble include:
* Tawana Brawley, who converted after her much-publicized claim of being raped by a gang of white men turned out to be a hoax;
* Mike Tyson, the heavyweight champion jailed for rape; and
* Benjamin Chavis, who converted after his eviction from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in large part for having paid off a mistress with NAACP funds.
* Kenny Gamble, the music producer whose life fell apart as he faced a payola investigation in 1975.
Other blacks in disgrace do not make the full step to conversion but become closely affiliated with the NoI, which provides them too with political and moral support. Prominent beneficiaries include:
* Alcee Hastings, an impeached Federal judge;
* Marion Barry, the mayor of Washington, D.C., convicted for drug-taking;
* George Stallings, a Catholic priest accused of child molestation; and
* Gus Savage, a U.S. congressman from Illinois charged with sexual harrassment.
Finally, some blacks in difficult straits merely dip into Islam, without developing a formal relationship – such as O.J. Simpson, who read the Qur'an while incarcerated. (December 18, 2003)
Jan. 31, 2004 update: You don't have to be powerful or famous to turn to the Nation of Islam in times of stress. Here's a story from today's Palm Beach Post on the trial of Lionel Tate, the youngest American sentenced to life in prison without parole (for killing a 6-year-old girl when he was 12). His mother, Kathleen Grossett-Tate, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, accepted an offer of assistance from the NoI and the result was "a squadron of black men dressed in sleek suits and bow ties" on the fourth floor of the Broward County Courthouse. The leaders "spoke with the teen's attorneys, offering advice on security, and the best means to move Tate and his mother in order to avoid the intense media horde."
May 30, 2004 update: James Ujaama, who pleaded guilty of conspiring to provide cash, computers and fighters to the Taliban, fits the pattern too, reports the Sunday Times (London) based on leaks from his grand jury testimony concerning the indictment of Abu Hamza al-Masri. Here is the key passage: Ujaama was for years a role model for blacks in his home town of Seattle
because of his business acumen and his community work. It was even decreed by one Washington state legislator in 1994 that a day should be dedicated to honouring him because of his contribution to city life. However, Ujaama became frustrated after he failed to sell to Hollywood a book that he had written about his life. In 1997 he converted to Islam. He subsequently travelled to London where he met [Abu] Hamza and was captivated by the cleric's impassioned ideology and his declaration of a jihad on the enemies of Islam.
Comment: Ujaama turned to standard Islam, not the Nation of Islam variant, a pattern I predict will become more prevalent in the future.
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: As noted in the prior update, the pattern is increasingly for American blacks to turn to standard Islam, and that might well turn out to be the case for Michael Jackson, especially if he spends much time in Bahrain.
Nov. 29, 2005 update: Internet sources of various stripes are saying that an English-Arabic nasheed that appears to date to 2002, "Gives Thanks to Allah" was sung by Michael Jackson. Here are the lyrics:
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 ah-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 meager.
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."
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."
Feb. 23, 2007 update: Jermaine Jackson goes further in an interview with Ahmed J. Versi in The Muslim News (UK), predicting that Michael will convert to Islam. Jermaine bases this expectation on Michael having shown a lot of interest in Islam. "When I came back from Makkah [Mecca] I got him a lot of books and he asked me lots of things about my religion and I told him that it's peaceful and beautiful. He read everything and he was proud of me that I found something that would give me inner strength and peace. I think it is most probable that Michael will convert to Islam."
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.
Comment: Is it true this time that Jackson has converted?
Mar. 2, 2009 update: Rap singer Snoop Dogg (né Calvin Broadus) has converted to the Nation of Islam, date unknown. One wonders if he did so while in trouble.
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."