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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 • Opinion • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan

soundoff (499 Responses)
  1. Rob Crenshaw

    Hopefully "burial at sea" is the same euphemism I learned as a child: they flushed him down a toilet.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • D

      Yeah, we heard you say that two minutes ago and it didn't get any laughs then.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Biko Gray

      How insensitive are you?

      May 2, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • J Bird

      Insensitive to whom? bin Laden? I didn't know terrorists should be treated like human beings. Lame

      May 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  2. stan

    i wont buy this bin laden is dead nonsense until i see a long form death certificate.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Tyler

      Good one!

      May 2, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  3. Jerry

    I am pretty sure we kept the body.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  4. Kevin

    I wouldn't want his corpse on our soil, and wouldn't want to leave it there for martyrdom. I can't think of a better solution for his remains but tossed in the sea.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  5. Patiat

    There'd better be a lot of believably non-photoshopped pictures of the body, because getting rid of it this fast is only going to create doubt.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • MarkinFL

      What kind of doubt exactly? If he was still on the loose a new video would be forthcoming, no?

      May 2, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  6. John

    Elegant ????? How ???? The pieace of Crap got what he deserved..... He was Made SHARK FOOD .... Elegant means " With Class" Which the coward had none of . I can only hope that they cut his head off before dropping him in the shark infested "Elegant" water.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • D

      You misunderstand. It was an "elegant" solution to avoiding his martyrdom by denying Muslims a site to which they can journey on a spiritual pilgrimage.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  7. Roger Paul

    I'm glad they got him, though I'd rather have see him languish in prison for the rest of his life. I doubt this will make a real impact on terrorism. We need to get beyond our dependence on oil and just leave the Middle East alone. Let them stay over there and fight each other. IMHO.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  8. BenE

    While burial at sea is allowed in Islam, it is allowed only where a person dies on a ship and cannot be returned to land for burial in a very short period (one or two days). If a person dies on land, he or she must be buried as quickly as possible in a proper grave.

    Ben Ladens followers will now claim that the person buried at sea is not Ben Laden. It is unfortunate that that the U.S. did not allow for some sort of independent identification of the body.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • MarkinFL

      And everyone will believe he is alive when they see the next episode of "I'm in hiding and you can't get me, nyah nyah nyah".
      However, since he's gone fishin' it ain't goin to happen.

      May 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  9. Iceman83

    It sure does all that has been said. It also does ONE OTHER THING.........nothing left for anyone to check on the reports.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  10. Rob Crenshaw

    Hopefully "burial at sea" is the same euphemism I learned as a child: they flushed him down the toilet.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  11. TRouble

    I thought the same thing when I heard the news this morning. It takes away exactly what the terrorists would want, a place to honor him. Very smart. I hope they release the photos at some point because that will help many who don't believe that he is dead reconcile the news.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I would say a whole lot of not being around and making videos would be enough for anyone with a mental capacity greater than a pigeon.

      May 2, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  12. Wally Balloo

    Curiouser and curiouser. Conspiracy advocates, start your engines!

    May 2, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  13. The Phantom

    Not fair.... We should have done islamic way.. Throw shoes at the dead man

    May 2, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  14. Tymaishu

    Because there full of BS, No body? They didn't kill him. Does anyone really believe that ?

    May 2, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • The Shocker

      Yes

      May 2, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Dadsnorz

      He's deader than a mackerel – as a matter of fact, he is "swimming with the fishes"....

      May 2, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • D

      If you can't spell "their," then I can't even begin to respect anything you say. Get over the conspiracy theory, jerk. If bin Laden's not dead, he'll release a video today. And that isn't going to happen. Because he's dead. Try to at least cover up your racist hate for our president...

      May 2, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • lajflaj

      Agree. Now the conspiracy theorists are going to be working overtime because they do not believe it. I believe it to be true but until they release the photos there is a small part of me that doesn't.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Tin Foil Hat Makers

      We have more tin foil hats read to be delivered to you. You will have them for the next time the aliens abduct you.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • DC

      Just had to reply to "D"... it isn't spelled "their" either in this case, it is spelled they're. You're definitely the bigger idiot hahaha

      May 2, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Truthseeker

      Well D- I think you should have thought twice before criticizing. It's "they're" not their. Come on now, really....

      May 3, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Truthseeker

      haha, DC- you and I must have posted at the same time.....great minds do think alike!

      May 3, 2011 at 12:01 am |
  15. PeteColumbusOhio

    It's great that Bin Ladan is gone and is a real victory! However, given terrorist organization structure, cutting off the snake's head is akin to cutting off a lizard's tail - a new one grows in it's place. Now that we got Osama, we need to ratchet up the heat and keep cutting off the heads before they gain too much power. Consider it the military's version of "Whack-a-mole;" instead now call it "whack-a-terrorist leader."

    May 2, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  16. JohnQuest

    Shabs, simple No Body No ID, I'm just saying, it really doesn't make a darn bit of sense to me.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • mmmerica

      If not, than you are a fool.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Mabus

      Actually, I think he had his drivers license and library card on him. Two forms of ID is usually good enough

      May 2, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • MarkinFL

      "I'm just sayin". Famous last words of all those that have nothing useful to say and nothing to back it up.

      May 2, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  17. Shabs

    I don't understand "burying Bin Laden in the sea part"......let them build a shrine for him and we can put everyone associated with building of the shrine and the visitors under "the watch list".

    May 2, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Alex

      maybe you're okay with paying your tax dollars for that, but I'm not.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • f

      Watch list my AS$$$$!!!!! Anyone who shows up at the Bin Laden memorial should be shot on sight.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  18. Doug Smith

    They should bury Bin Laden under the new World Trade Center. Now that would be the ultimate in justice and irony!

    May 2, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • kevin

      Wasnt funny the first time

      May 2, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Would you build your house over a fetid pile chicken sh!t?

      May 2, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  19. SadieSadie

    Let's be honest and say bin Laden received more respect in death than any western victim of al Qaeda ever did. Let us hope that with the snakes head removed it will be more difficult to unite al Qaeda around the world.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      Don't be so gullible. Being shoved out of a helicopter, in no coffin or wrapping, is not respect. He's fish food. He's all gone.

      May 2, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  20. Doug Smith

    They should bury Bin Laden under the new World Trade Center. Now that would be the ultimate in justice and iron!

    May 2, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • SS

      Should have been buried with a big fat pig!

      May 2, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Jannynet

      What, and have a whole herd of "loony tunes" trying to get into our USA to worship at his grave? No way!

      May 2, 2011 at 9:43 am |
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About this blog

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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.