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Michael Jackson: Muslim, Christian and Jew?

by Brad A. Greenberg

July 7, 2009 | 12:35 pm

Michael Jackson’s death has created a cottage industry in journalism. Frontpage coverage at major metros has been almost nonstop. The Los Angeles Times even created an MJ-specific Twitter feed. Jackson’s star-studded and God-free funeral service, starting in about an hour at the Staples Center, won’t put this story to rest (liveblogging here from The Guardian).

But one component that has been missing in all this is some solid discussion of just what religion the King of Pop really considered himself an adherent of.

I discuss this Godbeat gap in a post this morning over at GetReligion. In that post, I link to the best coverage I’ve seen on the topic, a compilation on Michael Paulson’s Articles of Faith blog of the different reports on whether Jackson was a Jehovah’s Witness or a Christian or a Muslim or even a Jew.

Paulson shows just how inconclusive all the reporting on this topic has been and how the vast majority of searching Jackson’s soul has been done by sectarian publications:

Jackson’s brother Jermaine is a Muslim, and there were some reports during Michael’s life that he, too, converted to Islam. The Times of London rounds up the evidence in an item headlined, “Was Michael Jackson Muslim?”; there was also a roundup on Global Voices. Imam Zaid Shakir blogged about Jackson’s conversion to Islam, and then retracted his blog item, concluding, “There have been many reports throughout the media concerning Michael becoming Muslim. Allah knows best as to their veracity.’’ Perhaps my favorite development on the role of Islam in the Michael Jackson story, though, was this correction that ran Saturday in The New York Times, revising a comment that Jermaine Jackson made at the hospital where Michael Jackson died:

“The article…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.”

* Not to be outdone, Christianity Today tackles the question, “Was Michael Jackson a Christian?” The evangelical magazine explores, and then essentially debunks, suggestions that Jackson accepted Jesus just before his death. “Initial rumors that the King of Pop had accepted Christ may have been false,’’ the magazine concludes.

* The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, meanwhile, offers a story on Michael Jackson’s “Jewish Ties,’’ which turn out to be quite complex—he said some offensive things, he was friends with a rabbi, he flirted with kabbalah (who didn’t?) and it’s possible that at least two of his children are technically Jewish because Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe, who has been thought to be the biological mother of the children, is Jewish. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a onetime friend of Jackson, wrote a generous appraisal for Beliefnet; Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the head of the Reform movement, offers a far more critical assessment, asking,

“Is it really necessary, however, now that he is dead, for those who speak in the name of the Jewish community to be joining in the adulation and offering excuses for his actions?”

Check out the rest of Paulson’s blog post, with lots of links to the articles he mentions, here.

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