Published at Islamonline.net (now OnIslam.net)
It began with whispers circulating social networking websites, such as facebook and twitter. “It’s just a rumor” one status read, “Look for reliable sources” another read. Millions visited TMZ.com – who first broke the story – crashing their site. Google thought it was under attack and for 35 minutes fans eager to know were led to an error page. There were more than 100,000 tweets an hour on twitter. The digital age was struggling to cope with the news that Michael Jackson, an icon, the king of pop, had died.
Growing up as a child in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s and, contrary to popular perception, almost every type of music was readily available. My first memory of MJ was through the video of Thriller (the best selling album of all time). The lyrics, the short simple theme, the special effects, the dancing, this was music at its very best.
From then in the 1980s to the moon walking antics of my teenage cousins in Pakistan just two years ago, this was a man who was capable of reaching a wide diverse audience of every creed or color. Universal appeal, a trait so many want but so few are blessed with.
But as often is the case, this same universal appeal may have been the cause for his downfall. Being projected from a very young age into fame, with the Jackson 5 going to number one as kids, to Off the Wall, introducing the adult Michael Jackson, to perhaps his greatest hit Thriller, to, eventually, his later years as a reclusive, MJ was subject to numerous trials and campaigns from proven false accusations of child sex abuse to fighting skin cancer, he was a man who despite the glamour surrounding his life, suffered a great deal.
The last Friday sermon that I listened to addressed the issue of culture. Some aspects of culture, the imam said, complimented faith, while some aspects may be less desirable. While music is always a controversial subject in Islam, almost every Muslim I know has not only heard of MJ but is familiar with a number of his songs. Within the culture of music is a message, one which the lyrics of MJ’s music addressed repeatedly.
As people we are taught to look at, to evaluate ourselves, a message of self improvement, checking oneself, taught throughout the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah, values which I believe MJ tried to share with his audience. For example, some of the lyrics from the song “Man in the Mirror” read:
I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change)
Meeting Jermaine Jackson A few years ago I met his brother Jermaine Jackson after his recent stint of fame in Celebrity Big Brother. Brothers can and are different, yet they often share a similar bond, I know this through personal experience, where my own brother (May he rest in peace) and I may have been very different people, yet we retained similar traits. Faith is however a personal experience and news about Michael’s conversion to Islam sparked little interest in the general Muslim Media. Perhaps such news was the tie to his musical career, or the accusations levied against him,, or the perception held by many that Muslims are uninterested in music. Whatever the case, one thing is clear, that before the likes of sportsmen like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, or politicians such as Barack Obama or Colin Powell, Michael Jackson provided a positive visible presence that bridged a cultural divide.
He was a man who despite the glamour surrounding his life, suffered a great deal
The Little Michael
There is no doubt that as a child,, like many child stars, he was not given the opportunity to enjoy what most children take for granted. Perhaps this contributed to his eccentricity, perhaps not. Whatever the case, love is one of the cornerstones of almost every song sung:
“Heal The World, Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me, And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying, If You Care Enough
For The Living, Make A Better Place
For You And For Me”
To want for others what you want for yourself, to feed the poor, to help the misfortunate, where have we heard these universal values of love before?
Whatever your opinion with regards to music, what cannot be denied is that Michael Jackson was a man who used his God-given talent to share through music the important message of love and caring for one another.
He did what he did, because he could. He like many others, rich or poor, famous or unknown, live in this world like as if it is a prison, holding him in: every now and then he would burst at the seams, making an impact, then retire, to recharge, before trying again.
Now deceased, as the tributes flow in, I wish to close my contribution citing a quote from his brother, Jermaine Jackson, from the press conference officially announcing his death, “May Allah be with you Michael, always. I love you. “