Tuesday morning, the Jackson family will pay tribute to Michael in a small, “private family function” at a cemetery in Hollywood Hills. When it’s over, the real show will begin. The location is set: Los Angeles’s Staples Center. The tickets have been counted: 20,000 to be packed in tight. Even the colour of the coffin has been confirmed (it’s made of gold). But when the final blessing is made, from what holy book will it come?
Last Thursday, Jermaine Jackson ended a news conference: “And Allah be with you Michael, always. I love you.” By Friday, news outlets around the world were a buzz with responses to a single question: why “Allah”? In recent years, Michael Jackson’s faith took a few sharp turns. Jackson was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness by his devout mother, but rumours began circulating in 2006 that the star was turning away from the family creed. In June 2005, Jackson was spotted wearing the red string bracelet favored by followers of Kabbalah. Sources reported that Michael had been turned on to the mystical offshoot of Judaism by close friend, Elizabeth Taylor.
But around that time, Jackson also began dabbling in Islam. His brother Jermaine—who is also known by his Muslim name, Muhammad Abdul Aziz—converted to Islam in 1989. And it seems that, with his 2005 trial for child molestation in full swing, Michael chose to follow suit. “When I came back from Mecca, I got him a lot of books,” Jermaine explained. “And he asked me lots of things about my religion, and I told him that it’s peaceful and beautiful.”
Following his trial, Michael withdrew to Bahrain, where he was the special guest of sheik Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the son of Bahrain’s king. Jermaine says it was then that Michael began to give conversion more “serious thought.” In 2008, Michael, then 50, was photographed wearing a black “abaya”—the traditional Arab veil for women—while on shopping trips at a Bahranian mall. In November of that same year, sources close to the star claimed that Michael had formally converted to Islam in a ceremony at a friend’s house in Los Angeles. He is also reported to have adopted the name
“Mikaeel”—the name of one of the angels of Allah—at that time. Still, doubt remains over the conversion, since Jackson never spoke publicly about
And it is that uncertainty that reportedly has the Jackson family squabbling. Jackson’s former business manager, Dr. Tohme Tohme, explained how the question of spirituality has divided the clan. “You’ve got the brothers on one hand, who all want to perform and turn the funeral into a showbiz extravaganza,” Tohme said. “And then you have Katherine on the other side who is a deeply religious woman and is determined that this won’t descend into a circus.”
But it’s not just a matter of how religious the ceremony should be— but also of what religion should be showcased. While some say that Katherine wishes to respect the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ burial rights, others claim that the Jackson brothers are pushing for a nondenominational event—given that the question of Michael’s spirituality remains so clouded. Michael Jackson never spoke publicly about his beliefs.