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May 2nd, 2011
08:49 AM ET

My Take: Burying bin Laden at sea an elegant solution

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

As I watched news reports of the death of Osama bin Laden late Sunday night and into the morning, I worried about one thing: What would be done with his body?

One of the perverse promises of Islamic terrorism is that it can transform ordinary people into martyrs for Allah. So I did not want to see bin Laden’s burial place turned into an Al Qaeda Mecca — a pilgrimage site for Muslim extremists and an assembly line for martyrs to come.

Now comes word that the mastermind behind Al Qaeda has been buried at sea.

U.S. officials said early this morning that bin Laden’s body had been treated in “accordance with Islamic practice.” Islamic practice, however, calls for corpses to be buried as quickly as possible — ideally within hours.  And it forbids cremation.

The United States needed some time, of course, to make the case that the corpse they were holding was, in fact, that of bin Laden — to perform an autopsy, perhaps, and to take photos and perhaps videos to show to the world.

'No land alternative' prompts bin Laden sea burial

Yet it needed to do all this quickly and in a manner that did not turn the Al Qaeda leader into more of a martyr than he has already become.

Burial at sea is an elegant solution to this problem. It is permissible under Islamic law, and it does not provide any one location that followers can turn into a shrine to global terrorism.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 9/11 • Death • Islam • My Take • Opinion • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan

soundoff (499 Responses)
  1. Antony L.

    After reading your thought as to avoid a land burrial site could become a pilgrim site, was briliant. By the way, thank you for writing the book "God is not one" It was the highlight of my vacation.

    July 12, 2011 at 5:16 am |
  2. призрак

    Кто играл в Старкрафт2? Интиресует прохождение последней миссии там где Рейнер спасает Кериган. Если кто проходил не поленитесь отпишите плиз.

    May 21, 2011 at 2:28 am |
  3. stives

    Bin Laden burial was quick, he is now resting cold in the sea and never to be returned. He will become food to the fish and sharks that will roam and prey upon his flesh. In so many words, the lives he help take; his body help feed more than the deaths he help cause. The bottom line is, it would be crazy to have ground burial for him since he was not fit to gain the respect of any countries....no one wanted to have his body buried there.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  4. tante jane

    Burying at sea is a beautiful solution in my opinion. For as many cultures bring their love ones to sea, it is a place of cleansing. Some believe if a child is burden by deformities or handicaps and dies, they bring them to the Sea to give back hoping that will be blessed with a healthy one. If the Sea reflects cleansing than this body needs it most. Maybe in his next life, if he is lucky to be granted one, he will see the mistakes he made in this one and make better choices. We could of thrown him in a dumpster and had the crows eat at his corpse. We could of hung him on a tree limb for all to see but we did it with respect and for that , I believed we did the best we could . No one can go to his grave and disgrace him there and no one can honor his existance for his horrible acts. Yes, in my opinion , was the only respectful thing to do.

    May 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  5. venn

    before he died,im sure that he's repent,for all those things that he has done,enough to jugde him just pray for him,even though its all done..amen...

    May 7, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  6. Pete

    I didn't eat shark before, and will definitely not eat it now!!! I hope he rots in hell with the rest of the Martyrs. Oh, by the way UBL how are those 72 virgins looking like right now? Maybe they’re just a tad under 300 pounds, fat, pregnant, and on the ugly side? I’d like to have been there and hear God say, “Osama, no need to draw this matter out, please use the elevator to your right, it only goes in one direction…DOWN! Have a pleasant stay!”

    May 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  7. Cat

    From what I heard, there are two forms of burial according to the Islamic traditions. One form of burial is for martyrs, the other form of burial is for non-martyrs. The US was careful to give bin Laden the non-martyr burial. The martyr burial includes burying the body wearing the clothes they died in, and not washing the body 3times and wrapping it in a white sheet. While many of us wouldn't care if he was simply tossed overboard, we need to understand how his followers and supporters would see that as a martyr's burial. It's the psychological part of warfare, since his followers still pose a threat.

    May 4, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  8. Muneef

    An Arabian Proverb states that "The worst of all disasters is the One that makes laugh...admit many might have laughed out first out of disbelieve that such kids  is said to have pulled such unbelievable act to such A Country with such tight Security ...then again have laughed in disbelieve of what might happen as a reaction for that pulled act which serves no Arabian nor a Muslim country but rather it served those who want certain accounts or references to burn down or to shake the trade for certain immediate gains or for gains that might result out of the reaction that will follow...

    To find out the truth you have to find out who had benefited from those attacks against the twin towers....?! It would never be by any ordinary men but it would rather be by those on the tiptop of (Finance&Power) to pull such act either towards making immediate financial or political gains or for hiding their crimes by making another crime....       

    The biggest proof to that was killing him with any chance of court hearing to his words of defense or finding him guilty of all charges they made us hear over the years...so they chance to close the chapter....

    [40:44] "Some day you will remember what I am telling you now. I leave the judgment of this matter to GOD; GOD is the Seer of all the people."

    May 4, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  9. J Hu

    1. Why kill him? His intel would be invaluable.
    2. Building 7 wasn't brought down by Osama. We need to find the Marvin Bush connection to Enron evidence.
    3. Muslim shrine? Go back to your books buddy.
    4. Can we bring our soldiers back now?

    May 4, 2011 at 4:31 am |
  10. yllus228

    Who really gives a s*it if it is permissible under Islamic law? Is beheading journalists and military and leaving thier bodies to rot in the street permissible under Christain Law? Pansy PC suck-ups.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:55 am |
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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.