Abstract: This month’s MJ Studies Today continues the discussion of Michael Jackson’s spiritual beliefs that commenced with the September 2022 column. In this second part, Kerry Hennigan looks at the rumours of Jackson’s conversion to other faiths that circulated in the media over the years. She also looks at what individuals close to Jackson near the end of his life have had to say about their experience of his spirituality.
Column by Kerry Hennigan, editor of the free monthly newsletter, A Candle for Michael, administrator of the widely subscribed Facebook group “Michael Jackson’s Short Film ‘Ghosts’” and an MJ blogger on WordPress. Kerry is a student of Ancient and Medieval History, Archaeology, Anthropology and Religious Studies and has a Certificate in Archaeology of the Ancient World from Cambridge University.
Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LXXXII: ‘What’s most important is the essence.’ Spiritual inspiration from Michael Jackson and his relationship with God and the Universe, Part 2.” (14-10-2022). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies 9, No. 2 (2022). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxxxii/
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A man who steeples his hands in a respectful “namaste” and wishes “God bless you” on his colleagues and co-workers, yet remains something of an enigma to the masses, is bound to generate some benevolent appropriation by his admirers for his presumed religious preferences. However, as with other aspects of Michael Jackson’s life, the responsibility for any confusion about the pop icon’s choice of faith largely lies with media-generated myths, some of which have been perpetuated by fans who themselves come from many countries, cultures and religious traditions.
During his final years, stories circulated that suggested, having officially left the Jehovah’s Witness church in 1987, Jackson had converted to various other faiths. His first wife, Lisa Marie Presley was said to have talked to him at length about the benefits of Scientology. Jackson was friendly for a time with Uri Geller and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach; however, it doesn’t mean he had converted to Judaism, no more than his frequent use of the ‘namaste’ salutation meant Jackson had become a Hindu or a Buddhist.
One persistent myth is that Jackson became a Muslim in the year prior to his death. This story originated with the UK publication The Sun in 2008 and, true to form, their article included no sources who would verify the story. The report did name individuals who subsequently denied their reputed roles in any “conversion.” Jackson’s New York lawyer, Londell McMillan, denounced The Sun’s report. “That’s rubbish. It’s completely untrue,” he said in November 2008.
In a Q&A for the online fan forum MJJ Community, Jermaine Jackson who himself had become a Muslim in 1989, confirmed that Michael did not follow his example. “He was curious about it and I gave him many books to read about Islam. I write in the book [You Are Not Alone: Michael, Through a Brother’s Eyes, 2012] how, during his 2005 trial, he returned to the Kingdom Hall to pray. It’s fair to say that he died a Jehovah’s Witness.”
None of the “conversion” stories in the media were written with any respect for Jackson or his choice of faith. Following the original 2008 story in The Sun, which was repeated by other media outlets, a statement was published on Jackson’s official website, denying any conversion while reinforcing the artist’s general respect for the major religions of the world. The statement was largely ignored because it did not fit the media’s “Wacko Jacko” narrative of Jackson – not that anything should be considered “weird” about a person changing their religious allegiance. However, in the post 9/11 world, the Western media likely considered such a choice by Jackson as “reactionary” given the war on terror that his homeland was waging at the time.
Michael Jackson was a man who acknowledged the “divine in everyone” and could be polite and accommodating to the respective beliefs of others. Thus we had him helping Gregory Peck’s widow, Veronique, plan the 2003 (Catholic) memorial service for her husband at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles where Peck was later interred in the Cathedral’s Mausoleum.
Michael also made a surprise appearance, in the company of Steve Harvey and Thomas Mesereau, at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles the day before he was scheduled to appear at a court hearing on the child abuse charges in 2004. ABC News reported on the event, and asked Jackson what had brought him to the church. “To worship and see the children,” he replied. ABC reported that “Jackson found nothing but support from the congregation as worshippers prayed for justice.”
Following his death in 2009, Jackson’s musical director for “This Is It,” Michael Bearden, shared his own experience of Jackson’s spiritual practice to Ebony magazine. “During the meals I’ve had with him, he did pray silently. When he prayed out loud, it was always to God, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t use any other names,” Bearden recalled. “We would talk about God and grace and humility a lot.” Jackson’s humility, a quality noted by many who met him throughout his life, was in dramatic contrast to the supreme confidence he displayed in his performances, when he “owned” the stage. The gratitude he expressed for being blessed with his creative gifts is one of the things that endeared him to his fans when he was alive and continues to inspire them thirteen years after his death.
Jackson’s desire to achieve a sense of “oneness” between people and cultures overrode the parameters of any restrictive dogma such as he’d experienced prior to his official parting of ways with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In his determination to create his music and perform dance steps like the moonwalk, Jackson experienced emotional turmoil at being in conflict with the demands and expectations of the church elders. Having freed himself from the rigid requirements of one dogma, it was unlikely he would submit to another that might similarly want to dictate what he could or could not do on stage, in his music, or his life.
In an interview recorded in 2012, Jackson’s eldest son Prince, then 15 years old, recalled of his father: “He taught me about the universe, how it’s ever expanding. He was philosophical I guess when it comes to thinking like that. He believed in a higher power, he believed in Jehovah, or whatever God your religion is. But he didn’t believe in a lot of the religious stuff, saying that you can’t do this, and you can’t do that or something like that. But he respected all religions, no matter what your God was.”
Prince Jackson also revealed that his father thought there was more “out there” in the ever-expanding universe. “Each one of those stars is twice as big as our sun,” Prince recalled his father telling him. “And he says that we can’t be the only [inhabited] planet out there. He used to talk about how beautiful the world is and who could have made something so beautiful. That’s how he used to talk about God a lot.”
As Michael himself wrote back in 1992: “Whatever you try to say about God, someone will take offense, even if you say everyone’s love of God is right for them. For me the form God takes is not the most important thing. What’s most important is the essence.” Michael Jackson saw this spiritual “essence” as the most perfect expression of love, and he genuinely believed that only through love, could we heal the world. Such a philosophy transcends all creeds and ideologies while encompassing the good in all of them. It also inspired him to create the art that has and will continue to entertain us for decades to come.
“My songs and dances are outlines for Him to come in and fill. I hold out the form. She puts in the sweetness.”
– Michael Jackson, “God,” from Dancing the Dream, Doubleday 1992.
 WikiIslam. “Michael Jackson (Conversion to Islam).” https://wikiislam.github.io/wiki/Michael_Jackson_(Conversion_to_Islam).html
 Grant, Adrian. Michael Jackson the Visual Documentary, Omnibus Press, 2009 page 269.
 MJJCommunity. “Exclusive Q&A with Jermaine Jackson.” https://www.mjjcommunity.com/threads/exclusive-q-a-with-jermaine-jackson.200478/
 ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=127648&page=1
 Ebony magazine. Sep 2009 page 94. Available to read online at https://truemichaeljackson.webnode.cz/interviews/ebony-1992/.
 Dart, John. “Jackson Out of Jehovah’s Witness Sect.” Los Angeles Times, 7 June 1987. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1987-06-07-me-1060-story.html
 Boteach, Rabbi Shmuley. The Michael Jackson Tapes. Vanguard Press, 2009. The relevant section can be accessed on the TrueMichaelJackson website.
 “Prince Michael Jackson Full Interview about his dad 2012.” https://youtu.be/ch9kCSWI3ic
 “Prince Michael Jackson Full Interview about his dad 2012.” Link as per .
 Jackson, Michael. “God” in Dancing the Dream, Doubleday 1992 page 69.
Further Reading and Viewing:
Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today LXXXI: ‘He was an incredible light.’ Spiritual inspiration from Michael Jackson and his relationship with God and the Universe, Part 1” (14-9-2022). The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies Vol. 9, No. 1 (2022). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-lxxxi/
Hennigan, Kerry. “MJ Studies Today XXVI (14-02-2018). ‘One of the nicest people in the world’ – Michael Jackson, Gregory Peck and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies Vol. 4, No. 3 (2018). https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/mj-studies-today-xxvi/
Jackson, Michael. “My Childhood My Sabbath My Freedom” on BeliefNet. https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/2000/12/my-childhood-my-sabbath-my-freedom.aspx
Rev June Gatlin on Michael Jackson & spirituality https://youtu.be/T8zCl3Yf3KM
Carr, Dr. Firpo W. “Michael Jackson & Jehovah’s Witnesses.” LA Sentinel, 23 July 2009. https://lasentinel.net/michael-jackson-jehovah-s-witnesses.html
Hennigan, Kerry. “Finding one’s spirituality through the life of Michael Jackson…why not? Review: ‘My Pop Star Teacher’ by Brenda Jenkyns, art by Marjolein Lucas.” https://kerryhennigan.wordpress.com/2021/05/11/finding-ones-spirituality-through-the-life-of-michael-jackson-why-not-review-my-pop-star-teacher-by-brenda-jenkyns-art-by-marjolein-lucas/
Illustration: “namaste” photo montage by Kerry Hennigan featuring photograph by Matthew Rolston. No photographic copyright infringement is intended in this not-for-profit, educational exercise.