Curious fans of Michael Jackson want to know what faith he embraced during the years just prior to his death. They’re intrigued with what sparked the Gloved One’s spiritual fire in the waning moments of his glorious life. Rumors swirl that although he was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses he secretly converted to Islam shortly before his death. For example, prior to his funeral one online article posed the question, “Will Michael Jackson’s Funeral Be Jehovah’s Witness–or Muslim?” (E! Online, July 2, 2009) So, the definitive question is: Was Michael Jackson Muslim, or was he one of Jehovah’s Witnesses? As one who has tracked the family’s religious progression for four decades–from the emergence of the Jackson 5 to Michael’s death–I’m pleased to offer my unique insight and observations.
Witness-Muslim connection?: The first chapter of my book, A History of Jehovah’s Witnesses–From a Black American Perspective (1993), is entitled, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Black Muslims.” These “Black Muslims” were Nation of Islam (NOI) members, not descendents of Black Africans in the Diaspora who belonged to Orthodox Islam, which tenet-wise differs dramatically from the NOI. The chapter highlights the similarities and parallels between Black Witnesses and Black Muslims. These connections were explained in a book I later released in 2002 entitled, Jehovah’s Witnesses: The African American Enigma–A Contemporary Study (Vol. 1). Numerous sources were quoted stating that the NOI absorbed a number of Witness teachings, and that the first two leaders of the NOI were enamored with the first two leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Was Michael a Muslim enamored with the Witnesses? Or, was he a Witness enamored with the Muslims?
Michael in the Moment: Michael Jackson was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there’s no doubt about that. But, he left in 1987 because a number of well-meaning fellow Witnesses severely criticized him for his “worldliness.” They apparently confused his right to make a living as the greatest entertainer in history with his alleged desire to be a part of the world. (1 John 2:15-17; Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 7:31) Still, even though a distraught and frustrated Michael disassociated himself from the organization he never surrendered the Bible-based doctrines his mother taught him.
Fourteen years after officially leaving the Witnesses Michael not only continued to identify himself as one, he even asserted his official association with the group. In an interview with TV Guide in 2001 Michael was asked: “Are you still a Jehovah’s Witness?” The King of Pop unhesitatingly answered: “Yeah.” He further added: “I’ve done, you know, we call it pioneering [full-time preaching]. We do 90 hours a month. [This quota has been reduced since.] I don’t do as much now because I’m busy. You go door to door. I wear a fat suit, pop-bottle glasses, mustache, buck teeth, and, like, an Afro wig. And I knock on the door and say we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Also, back in 2004, under some rather critical, extenuating circumstances I found myself in the presence of Michael, his mother Katherine, his sister Rebbie, Grace Rwaramba (the children’s nanny), Michael’s daughter Paris, and son Prince Michael. We were at Michael’s rented home in Beverly Hills. I was surprised when he beckoned me into an adjacent room. Paris insisted on being not letting him out of her sight, so she and Prince Michael accompanied us into the next room, after which Michael closed the door.
He then told me, among other things, that he wanted me to study the Bible with his children, and that he wanted them to be raised by his mother as Jehovah’s Witnesses should anything happen to him. This explains in part why these same children were being seen attending a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses here in Los Angeles after his funeral.
Witness family members?: Many want to know just who are Witnesses in Michael’s immediate family. Here’s the final word: Michael’s oldest sister, Rebbie (real name Maureen), is a devout Witness to this day. Katherine, Michael’s mother, is also a conscientious Witness. LaToya was a Witness, and even served as a temporary pioneer for a while, but was eventually excommunicated (“disfellowshiped”). Although Janet and the rest of the Jacksons were all raised as Witnesses, none were baptized as such and subsequently went their separate ways upon reaching adulthood. What is particularly interesting is that Joseph Jackson, Michael’s father, introduced Witness teachings to the family, but declined to become one himself. Joe’s parents, both deceased, were also Witnesses in Arizona, having joined the faith later in life.
Michael’s Mysterious Memorial Service?: Actually, the private memorial service for Michael Jackson was no mystery at all. According to People magazine, “About 70 relatives gathered at Forest Lawn, where Jackson’s cousin Wendell Hawkins conducted a Jehovah’s Witness service.” Though not officially a Witness service, it had all the trappings. Hawkins told all in attendance, including Michael’s three children, that Michael’s “life was connected with Jehovah.” A Washington Post article dated July 8, 2009, also expounded on Michael’s Witness upbringing.
According to one source, it certainly couldn’t be true that Michael converted to Islam because Muslims don’t embalm the body, let alone display it. Also, they have an aversion to autopsies, and promptly bury their dead within 48 hours of death. The Witnesses have no problem these matters. Therefore, an autopsy was performed on Michael; he was embalmed; his body was displayed; and he was not buried promptly.
Finally, Ebony magazine conducted the last comprehensive interview with Michael Jackson in its December 2007 Special Collector’s Edition which carried the title, “Michael: 25 Years After Thriller.” Michael summed up just which God he worshipped when he stated, some 20 years after leaving the Witnesses, the following on page 98: “When I write something that I know is right, I get on my knees and say thank you. Thank you Jehovah!”
Amen, Brother Michael Jackson. Amen.