Michael Jackson in Bahrain: Pop Meets Islam

From child molestation charges to Islamic island retreat — briefly

Michael Jackson Court Hearing
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After he was acquitted of child molestation charges in 2005, Michael Jackson pulled a disappearing act. At the end of June 2005 he went to Bahrain, the tiny 33-island archipelago in the Persian Gulf known less for its isolation than for playing host to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet: If Jackson wanted to get away from all things American, he chose poorly.

Why Bahrain?

So why Bahrain? Blame Jermaine, who is a friend of the son of the ruler of Bahrain, must have impressed on his brother that he could get himself some private acreage and recharge in Bahrain.

Abdullah Hamad Al Khalifa did him one better. He lavished dollars and attention on Jackson, called him "my brother," and told media outlets that he had formed "a close personal relationship" with the star. No word from Sheikh Dad if he approved, though he must have. Jermaine, after all, had converted to Islam in 2001 after a visit to Saudi Arabia. The sheikh must've thought he could go two for two with the Jacksons, if not an eventual grand slam. Raised a Jehovah's Witness, The closest Jackson got to Islam until then was through his dalliances with the Nation of Islam. (The sheikh got his wish, belatedly: in November 2008, British papers reported that, on something of a whim, Jackson converted to Islam and changed his name to the Arabic sounding Mikhaeel.)

Flirting with the UAE

In September 2005, Mohammed Bin Sulayem, the United Arab Emirates' champion rally driver, took Jackson on sightseeing and real estate tours of the Emirates, with Abdullah in the backseat, probably to remind Jackson that his heart, left neither in Los Angeles nor San Francisco, was not in Bahrain, not the Emirates. Hadn't Abdullah given Jackson $300,000 for a "motivational guru"? (Abdullah, it should be noted, is an aspiring songwriter, and thought he and Jackson could cut a few albums together.)

The Mother of All Mosques

Sure enough, two months later, in November 2005, the Bahrain Tribune reported on its front page that Jackson, who had gone to Bahrain bankrupt, had pledged to build the Neverland of mosques--a gigantic gift from Jackson to Bahrain in recognition for the island nation taking him in after his trial and tribulations Stateside.

The gift was the equivalent of make-up sex: the relationship between the thriller and the sheikhs was on the rocks. Before long Jackson was quitting Bahrain and all plans to establish himself or build a mosque there. Jilted Abdullah was suing him for $7 million.

They settled a couple of years later, but Jackson's looks eastward were over. He went back to the more familiar smog and sorrows of Los Angeles. It was there that he collapsed and died today as he was preparing for a 50-date concert streak in England. (Juan Cole has more on Jackson's Mideastern serenade.)

Mourning Michael from Minarets

They'll be mourning in every time zone, Bahrain and every Middle Eastern square mile included. I don't doubt that more than a few muezzins in minarets across the Islamic world will also be humming their Jackson tunes between salat, their five required daily prayers. At least those muezzins worth their moonwalks — they didn't call them the Jackson Five for nothing.