By Sumaya Bezrati
Less than a minute after the news broke about Michael Jackson’s passing, one of my relatives posted a video link on Facebook of what appeared to be Michael Jackson singing an Islamic nasheed called “Give Thanks to Allah.” Thousands of comments poured in from Muslims ecstatic to hear the “proof” that confirmed that MJ was actually a Muslim, as if that somehow validated their own personal faith. One Muslim youth even said that she felt better about her secret love for all things MJ, now that she knew he was a Muslim. To these people, if Michael Jackson, who was considered the greatest singer of all time had accepted Islam, it must be a sign that Islam is the true religion. Much to their dismay however, the song wasn’t even Michael Jackson on the track. In fact, the song “Give Thanks to Allah” is well-known to have been sung by a South African, Zain Bikha.
Many questions about our own faith arise as a result. Why would someone go so far as to credit Michael Jackson for a song that wasn’t even his, in order to try to justify his conversion to Islam? Why do we, as Muslims, feel better about our faith when famous people embrace the deen (faith)? Also, why did that sister feel that because Michael Jackson was a Muslim, it somehow was more legitimate now to listen to his more questionable lyrics? The truth of the matter is, even if Michael Jackson was a Muslim, he never came out publicly with his decision, and therefore we may never know whether he was Muslim or not. So why waste our time arguing over it? And most importantly, who cares? Why this obsession with Muslim celebrities?
Many Muslim celebrities have never openly declared themselves as such, leaving the public in the dark about their religious beliefs. For example, for the last five years, rumors have flooded the Internet about famous comedian Dave Chappelle embracing Islam. There have been all sorts of mosque sightings, and some have even claimed to see him performing a comedy routine just outside of the Masjid al-Haram. Publicly however, he has never actually stepped forward and claimed to be a Muslim. In response to a Time Magazine interview in 2005, when asked about his religious beliefs, Chappelle claimed that he does not publicly discuss his religious beliefs because he does not want them linked with his flaws. This is actually highly commendable of him, if indeed he is a Muslim. This is because the majority of famous Muslims who have publicly proclaimed Islam to be their faith, have also done many things that leads one to question their adherence to the faith. For instance, the famous Muslim rapper T-Pain has released two chart-topping songs “I’m N Luv (Wit a Stripper)” and “Buy U a Drank” with lyrics that are blatantly against Islamic doctrine.
Even practicing Muslim rapper Lupe Fiasco who wrote the song “Muhammad Walks” admits that although he was born Muslim, and Islam plays a role in everything he does, he is “not like the poster boy for Islam” and still has his flaws, which include lyrics about alcohol, drugs and guns. Additionally, many of these Muslim celebrities (such as GZA from Wu Tang Clan) are actually members of splinter groups such as Five-Percenters, who believe that the Original Blackman is God and call their founder, Clarence 13X, Allah.
Why then, with the lyrics about women, drugs and alcohol, with the amounts of arrests and numerous affairs they’ve had, do we still take pride in these Muslim celebrities and glorify their accomplishments? As none of these famous Muslims are ulama (Muslim scholars), they should not be considered role models for Muslims, especially when they choose to openly engage in unlawful behavior. Muslims should instead look first to our beloved Prophet (pbuh) as a role model as he was the best of mankind, and confirms himself that he was sent as a role model in his statement, “I was sent to perfect the nobility of character” (al-Bukhari).
Secondly, we should look to profound Muslims from both past and present who are known for their piety and good action, as those are the only two traits that single out a person as better than another. This is evidenced in the Prophet’s (pbuh) last sermon when he said “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also, a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.”