Michael Jackson, African Americans, and Islam
Daniel Pipes reflects on rumors that Michael Jackson, who has moved to Bahrain, is on the verge of conversion to Islam.
Given Mr. Jackson’s famous eccentricities, it is unclear what his Bahraini venture amounts to, but if he does convert to Islam, he will be following a path in place since the late 1940s, of African-Americans under stress turning to some form of Islam. Their ranks include some notable high-profile cases:
- Malcolm X: the Nation of Islam leader converted while serving time in prison in 1948.
- Tawana Brawley: the much-publicized hoaxer converted after the exposure of her claim of being gang raped by white men.
- Benjamin Chavis: the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People converted after his scandal-ridden eviction.
- John Allen Muhammad: the Beltway Sniper converted after a bruising divorce.
- Henry Tillman: the Olympic gold-medal heavyweight boxing medalist converted while in prison on charges of murder.
- Mike Tyson: the heavyweight boxing champion converted while in prison, serving time for rape.
- James Ujaama: the celebrated community activist who had battled drugs and prostitution converted to Islam at a time of career problems; he later pleaded guilty of conspiring to help the Taliban.
Also, O.J. Simpson, the football star accused of murdering his wife, recalls, “when I was incarcerated I read the Koran,” but he apparently did not go on to convert.
Of course, seven converts and one near-convert “since the late 1940s” is not all that many. Nor are all of these “notable high-profile cases” all that notable or high profile.
From that dubious premise, though, Pipes adds a compelling statistical tidbit:
These and other examples establish Islam — in both its normative and Nation variants — as a leading solace for African-Americans in need. That helps explain why the United States has by far the largest Muslim convert population in the Western world (about 750,000 adherents).
Even in a nation of 298 million, that’s significant. There’s little doubt that the Nation of Islam, with its message of empowerment and personal responsibility, is appealing to young black men who have grown up without much structure and find themselves behind bars.
That said, the conclusion Pipes draws is more than a bit of a stretch:
Each black public figure who converts to Islam or accepts Nation of Islam support creates an added impetus for other blacks to change religions, a pattern that has also emerged in other Western countries.
Thus do the actions of an erratic celebrity in distant Bahrain have significant consequences.
Are there really a lot of young black men who are trying to be more like this Mike?