May 2nd, 2011
06:31 PM ET
(CNN) - Many Muslims around the world expressed confusion Monday after a senior U.S. official - without elaboration -– said that Osama bin Laden’s body had been buried at sea “in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition.”
“That made me curious, because there is no such tradition that requires a man who dies on land to be taken out and buried to the sea,” said Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic Studies at American University.
It is common for a Muslim who dies at sea to be buried at sea because one of the main fundamentals of Islamic burials is that the body must be buried within 24 hours before it starts to decompose, Ahmed said. If a land burial isn’t realistic within that timeframe, a sea burial must take place.
But he had never heard of someone dying on land and being buried at sea.
Later Monday, one of President Obama’s key advisers clarified the administration’s decision, saying that even though bin Laden died on land, there was no land to bury him on.
No country was willing or able to take bin Laden’s body for a funeral within the required 24-hour timeframe, according to John Brennan, Obama's homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.
“The burial of bin Laden's remains was done in strict conformance with Islamic precepts and practices,” Brennan told reporters at a White House briefing.
“It was prepared in accordance with the Islamic requirements. We early on made provisions for that type of burial, and we wanted to make sure that it was going to be done, again, in strictest conformance."
Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and regular contributor to the CNN Belief Blog, added it was also likely that the U.S. did not want bin Laden to become “more of a martyr than he has already become.”
"Burial at sea … does not provide any one location that followers can turn into a shrine to global terrorism,” Prothero wrote Monday.
Imam Khalid Latif, a chaplain for New York University and executive director of the school's Islamic Center, said in a Belief Blog post that Islamic law is flexible and that the rules can be adjusted to reduce detriments to society.
“There should be no opportunity for glorification of bin Laden,” Latif wrote Monday.
“A grave that people could visit also would serve as an opportunity for his small group of followers to memorialize him. These individuals are skewed not only in their misreading and misinterpretation of Islam, but also - and more important - in their understanding of morals and ethics. No opportunity should exist by which they could glorify bin Laden in his death, either in the immediate future or in years to come.”
Most Muslims aren’t really that concerned with the details surrounding bin Laden’s burial, said Omid Safi, author of “Memories of Muhammad” and a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He said the founder of al Qaeda had lost much of his credibility because of his heinous acts.
“Bin Laden himself showed no concern with the burial of Muslims,” Safi said.
“Whether you’re talking about the 200 or so Muslims who died on 9/11 in the towers or the victims of his other attacks in Africa, he couldn’t have cared less about whether or not those Muslims ever had a chance to receive a proper burial.”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.