Pray Tell: Does It Matter If Janet Jackson Converted To Islam?

Janet Jackson, who is known for keeping her private life private, recently admitted that she had married her third husband, Qatari billionaire Wissam Al-Mana. Though she hasn’t confirmed or denied it, there are lots of rumors that Janet converted to Islam before the wedding. Considering that religious conversions for marriage happen all the time – and that Janet’s brother Jermaine publicly converted to Islam some years ago – this story should be a non-issue.

Alas, there are a lot of people out there who think it’s their right to see Janet Jackson’s hot body in skimpy clothes and think that a conversion to Islam will foil their plans.

“As fans all around the world collectively clutch their pearls, reports are surfacing that you may NEVER see Janet Jackson’s abs, boobs or Poetic Justice braids again,” wrote the blog The YBF (Young, Black, and Fabulous). The blog Bossip also reported the rumors that Janet was quitting showbiz for good following her marriage and maybe-conversion. In a post entitled “Allah Take The Wheel,” they snarked “good rich peen will make you change religions!” Several sites also posted pictures of Janet with a scarf around her head and labeled it a hijab (a Muslim veil), though it’s not clear from the photo exactly what she’s wearing.

So what if Janet – excuse me, Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty – has changed her religion? She’s an adult and she doesn’t owe it to anyone to believe anything. It’s possible that her husband requested the conversion, but it’s also possible that it was her idea and she made the decision independently. Just because she was raised in one faith (Jehovah’s Witness) doesn’t mean that that faith speaks to her or addresses her spiritual needs.

But there’s a deeper issue here, one more dire than never being able to see Janet Jackson’s boobs on TV again. Many of the headlines about her conversion subtly hint at a xenophobic fear or panic about Islam. The comments on The YBF’s post bear this out: commenters say that it’s not safe for women or black people in the Middle East and that Janet will be made a slave. These simplistic assumptions about women in Islam are dangerous and not fair. Just this week, a group called FEMEN organized a “Topless Jihad Day” [second item] to protest the state of women and their bodies in Islam. In response, a group of Muslim feminist activists responded that they didn’t need Western women telling them if they were oppressed or not, and they organized a counter-protest called Muslimah Pride Day. On their Facebook page, the counter-organizers wrote:

So please post pictures of your beautiful selves, whether you wear hijaab, nikaab or not. This is an opportunity for Muslim women to get a say and show people that we have a voice too, that we come in many different shapes and sizes that we object to the way we are depicted in the west, we object to the way we are lumped in to one homogenous group without a voice of agency of our own.

It’s not sad that a famous American celebrity might or might not have converted to Islam. Nor is it a tragedy that her newfound faith might mean she doesn’t make as many music videos or wear skintight outfits to perform in. Ultimately, Janet doesn’t owe us anything, especially when it comes to such a personal topic as religion.

That said, I would be pretty excited if she did a duet with fellow Muslim convert Cat Stevens. Here’s hoping.

Lilit Marcus blogs at Faith Goes Pop.