Michael Jackson is Dead, so is Neda [update]

Yesterday, June 25, 2009. Michael Jackson died; God rest his soul. I was not going to blog about his passing. He is an artist, a celebrity, why is his death more important than any other? He was an artistic genius, of that there can be no doubt. What he did for music and dance in pop is unparalleled. However, he was still a human being. He had an impact on my childhood, but I did not know him. In many respects, because of his fame, he was unreal. He was no closer to me than Rumi, whose poetry speaks to me in a powerful way, but who died centuries ago. I was not going to write about his passing, until I saw how other Muslims were writing about him. The emphasis was on the fact that he was Muslim, and that’s what makes this a story in the community (at least Muslim Matters makes a theological argument as to why it’s important).

When the story of Jackson’s conversion came up, I asked the question “so what?” So what if he was a Muslim, or believed to be Muslim? Why is this important to the Muslim community? I understand the appeal of claiming someone famous as part of the faith tradition, but as I said before, OBL is famous too. Jackson’s musically creative period all happened before he supposedly became Muslim. His genius was not expressed as a Muslim. Do you want to take credit for something that is controversial, possibly prohibited, and done by a non-Muslim? After he supposedly became Muslim, did he, as the Qur’an says, command the good? Were his riches given to help the needy? Did he use his fame to mobilize people to help the less fortunate? I do not want to criticize him, we all make our own choices, but I want to understand why the Muslim community fêtes him in this way after his death.

To apotheosize him is diminish him to a caricature of a “famous Muslim.” It means that as Muslims we are joining in the cult of fame, and not interrogating the things that we should be emulating. Mourn the loss of a man. Mourn the loss of an artist. Mourn the loss of a genius. Mourn him as a Muslim if you believe it to be true. But do not let that mourning for a man many have no personal connection to surpass the mourning for those who are dying from poverty; who are dying fighting for justice; who are suffering in Sudan. Cry for the four boys who were amputated today. Cry for Neda.

Update: Ali Eteraz sheds some light on the need to own MJ by Muslims.