People adored him, worshiped him, but also despised him. Michael Jackson, born a star, was an enigma in life and remains an enigma in death.

A day after the star’s death, a religious group in Jakarta displayed a banner, called him “brother” and bade him goodbye. Interesting. Similar groups in the past would often criticize him for his “vulgar performances” and “indecent concerts.”
These are the same people who laughed at Wacko Jacko when he was charged with child sexual abuse in 1993. Though he pleaded not guilty and even endured a humiliating 25-minute strip search to prove his innocence, we turned a deaf ear to him.

The charges against him were never proved, but we, including the media, were too quick to pass our verdict. The poor man had to pay millions in an out-of-court settlement. At the time, even his elder sister accused him of being a pedophile. Now, after his death, his accuser says the allegations were lies.

In 2005, Michael Jackson was once again tried and acquitted of sexual abuse allegations and several other charges. We read the news, passed our verdict and forgot all about it.

We wasted him in life. Now that he is dead, we are fighting over his dead body. I posted a Facebook message saying that I did not care whether Jackson was a Christian, a Muslim or a Jehovah’s Witness, and that he was born a human and died a little more human. In response, a journalist commented that the “fact is that he is a Muslim. No matter what they do to his body, he is a Muslim.”

Mr. Jackson, what was your religion?

Michael Paulson, who reports on religion for The Boston Globe, tried to answer this question on his blog and ended up admitting that his head started to spin. “He was a Jehovah’s Witness. A Muslim. He accepted Jesus before he died. The Vatican loved him, but was that right? There’s even a Jewish angle of sorts.”

As we all know, Jackson was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. His brother Jermaine is a Muslim, and while Jackson was alive there were some reports that, he, too, had converted to Islam. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, meanwhile, offered a story on Jackson’s rather complex ties with Judaism: “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, believed to be the biological mother of the children, is Jewish.”

What is more interesting is a generous appreciation of Jackson’s legacy published by the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano, in response to which Tom Heneghan of Reuters had this to say: “It’s not every day that the Vatican newspaper suggests that a man accused of pedophilia and said to have converted to Islam might be immortal. But that’s what L’Osservatore Romano did today.”

Not all Christians share this sentiment, however. There are people who consider Jackson’s life a spiritual wreck. Here is a man who cried with Mother Earth, dreamed of change by becoming the change, tried to heal the world and proclaimed the unity of all humankind. He might or might not have followed a particular brand of religion, but spirituality is without brand. It is generic, just like love, peace and harmony. Jackson was a man of peace. He loved and he dreamed of a harmonious coexistence. Does it matter if he followed any religion or not?

Hindus in Britain mourn his death. They recall his 1999 visit to a temple in Northwest London where he “took off his shoes before entering the temple like all other devotees.” The Times of India reported that he considered India his “special love,” was planning a collaboration with double Oscar-winning Indian musician AR Rahman and was reading Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry during his last days.

The Indians also remember him for his concert there in 1996. Before leaving Mumbai, he left a moving message to his fans on his pillow cover: “India, all my life I have longed to see your face. I met you and your people and fell in love with you. Now my heart is filled with sorrow and despair for I have to leave, but I promise I shall return to love you and caress you again.

“Your kindness has overwhelmed me, your spiritual awareness has moved me, and your children have truly touched my heart. They are the face of God. I truly love and adore you, India. Forever, continue to love, heal and educate the children, the future shines on them. You are my special love, India. Forever, may God always bless you.”

For those Indians who believe in reincarnation, it is almost certain that Jackson will be reborn there. Someone writes to me from India, “You see he promised to return. In no time he shall be reborn here. No doubts whatsoever.”

Good business for astrologers and diviners in India. I am sure within a year or so several parents will claim their child to be the reincarnation of Michael Jackson. I can envision many such claimants and a mushrooming number of Michael Jacksons there.

As an Indian Muslim, Hindu or Christian?

It did not matter to my Indian friend, as long as he was born an Indian.

All his life Jackson sang songs of oneness, unity, and the need to live outside man-made boxes. We enjoyed his songs, but did not always understand them.

There are people fighting over the Jackson’s religion in the wake of his death. Given an opportunity, they would fight for the possession of his body in order to bury it following the appropriate religious rites.

As in life, in death Michael Jackson remains misunderstood. But he lived his life on his own terms. He sang the song that he came to sing and left us singing. There are not too many people daring to live as dangerously as he did.


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