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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. G

    As much as I think the sea burial is a good option, the oceans of the world are all connected and in a way Osama Bin Laden maybe looked at as being everywhere. I'm afraid that some fanatics would use that to further propagate his message and gain more spiritual strength by advocating the theme of him being everywhere. A burial in an undisclosed location would have been better in my mind.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  2. Mary

    bin laden must have Obama's birth certificate. No proof of either.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • porpoise

      Mrs. Trump?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  3. tuffyterf

    The first thing you learn when you get a security clearance in the U.S. is that the propaganda released to the media is just that, propaganda. Yes, Osama Bin Laden is most likely dead, but who, when and where probably are vastly different than what has been reported. And one thing I guarantee, THEY DID NOT BURY HIM AT SEA! That makes me laugh out loud, like the U.S. govt. cares about muslim burial traditions..They hunted this guy for 10 years, and if they actually got the body, they still have it.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      For what earthly reason would they keep it?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  4. geeeno

    "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. "

    what are you talkin about, now they can worship at the beach.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  5. theresa baley

    And if you believe that I have a bridge in Arizona to sell you...

    May 2, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  6. CupOfJoe

    Burial at Guantanamo would have being more appropriate. No shrine there.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  7. Bocephus

    ‎"When the wicked perish, there is jubilation." – Proberbs 11:10

    May 2, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Alex B-P

      There is no Dania, only Zoul.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:05 am |
  8. Judas Levine McArthur Bush Lee the 13th

    They should have brought his rotten corpse back to the states and dangled it from a flag pole the way those islamofacist psychopaths did our soldiers in Somalia.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  9. ewrj

    He should have been fed to the pigs.
    Recall Patton's legend?

    May 2, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  10. bill

    not really. the best solution is to put his body in the guantanamo bay jail so those who come to worship him can be locked up and interrogated immediately after. duh!

    May 2, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  11. The killer, does not have my respect , feed him to the sharks !

    War what good is it ? Building is hard work , quit blowing it up !

    May 2, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  12. Rick

    About time the US government did something right. Turning him in to Fish Bait was Brilliant. BRAVO....

    May 2, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  13. Tymaishu

    no body = hes not dead

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

      There was a body. They took pictures, did digital scans, probably even imprints. Then took numerous samples for DNA confirmation and to keep on file. THEN they demonstrated that the US isn't at war with good Muslims by honoring their religion, even despite how much we hated this guy. I think it was perfectly handled.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Bob

      No brain, you're not alive.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • porpoise

      Good morning, Mr. Trump.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  14. Larry

    Wouldn't you know it – the ASPCA has already complained that sharks in the burial area have been vomitting up undigestible peices of bin laden.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  15. The killer, does not have my respect , feed him to the sharks !

    God will judge him , the devel bin laden can see his brother in hell . War what good is it . I work too hard to have him blow it up. Understand it is hard to build homes and buildings .

    May 2, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Name*mike

      Your right God will judge him....it was our job to arrange that meeting

      May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  16. David K

    I disagree. They should bury him in a known location, make an al Qaeda shrine out of it.. then just kill anyone who shows up to it.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      Funny.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Liz C

      David, brilliant! That would have been a great idea!:)

      May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  17. KYgirl

    I'd really like to see photos of the body. As the saying goes...I won't believe it till I see it.

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

      That's why you are from Kentucky – stupid. no teeth, and married to your cousin.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Bob

      You think they should have chartered a plane and flown you there to witness it and his buried at sea? Oh, you're from Kentucky; I thought Missouri was the "Show Me" state...

      May 2, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • KYgirl

      You sound real educated there Larry. Are you from WVa or TN? KY happens to be my initials.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Free

      Actually, I thought KY was referring to the kind of jelly you liked.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • CC

      Larry, as do so many others like him, like to think they are very clever by making ignorant statements, such as the remark about people from Kentucky. Usually this stems from being ignorant themselves and having a great need to belittle others in order to make themselves feel important. Sad isn't it? BTW....I love that you took the wind out of his statement in stating that KY are your initials.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • KYgirl

      Well said, CC. One should have to take an intelligence test before commenting is allowed.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Larry

      Too bad – I love insulting hillybillies. You married or have a boyfriend?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Larry

      CC and KY – no ganging up on my, unless you're a girl, CC.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  18. Tymaishu

    no body = not dead

    May 2, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Larry

      Another Trump.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Karin Blue

      We had that problem already 2000 years ago when a body got disappeared and we suffer the consequences to this very day.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Bob

      For the second time, no brain = you're not alive.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  19. Echo

    In his case, I think they should have skipped the islamic tradition. I would like to have seen proof... I wonder if they will be able to prove it at all now that he is already dumped overboard.. I also see this as a triump for Bush, not obama. Bush is the one who sent us after him.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Greg

      AND BUSH FAILED AT GETTING HIM, SO YOU CAN LOOK AT IT THROUGH ROSE COLORED GLASSES FOR BUSH IF YOU WANT TO, BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY. OBAMA GOT HIM

      May 2, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Ed

      It was a smart move following the islamic traditions. Its proof we are not a war with islam only people like Bin Laden. If we had not observed their traditions some would take it as proof we have a problem with islam as a nation and that could cause bad blood. This shos the islamic groups the country is ok with them just not the terrorist.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Bob

      RIght, and he couldn't find get in 8 years.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Bob

      RIght, and he couldn't find and get him in 8 years. It took a "Kenyan."

      May 2, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Larry

      The only thing bush succeeded in was the death of over 4 000 American soldiers. Oh, one other thing. The most deadly terrorist attack in the history of this country happened while he was president.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • tom

      A triumph for Bush? Seriously?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • ATLEng

      Would you apply the same logic to the economic standing of our country?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Vader

      And 8 years later (end of term), no success. Kind of emblematic of the entire Bush administration and policies.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • CC

      Most of you people are so short-sighted in claiming Obama got Bin Laden. This search and campaign had begun years ago and had continued up until the end. Obama was not the one out there searching for Bin Laden and certainly was not the one who killed him. It was those in the military who have been searching all along for this evil man. Those who say Obama got him obviously live in Fantasyland thinking Obama was out there, like an old-time gun slinger, searching various hiding places and finally engaging in a shoot out with Bin Laden. It has always been the military personnel doing the searching and those in the Navy Seals who finally closed the book on Bin Laden. The lack of appropriate information has hindered this operation from the beginning as well as the many in the region who helped Bin Laden elude capture all these years. It took cooperation from various parties and good, solid information to track Bin Laden down and take him out. Obama's only participation in this was to issue the final orders to go in and remove him. It is the same with any President....they sign the papers and the military does the job. Get over yourselves in stating that Bush failed and Obama succeeded. Bush put the military in action and Obama happened to be sitting in the Oval Office when the final team found and killed Bin Laden. Deal with reality.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Ken

      Yep – Bush went after him, after ignoring the warnings that he was going to attack in the first place! Then, by all accounts, he blew it at Tora Bora. Then he said he "doesn't really think about him all that much". Thanks GWB! It's amazing to watch Repubs squirming and performing all sorts of acrobatics to avoid giving Obama credit for leading this as CinC.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • ATLEng

      @CC –
      Like I said before, if you can blame the economy on him, you can give him credit for this.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • tlocke

      To Echo.. With all due respect sir, you are correct that Bush sent us to get him.. But he didnt get him.. Bush was convinced he was in the Tora Bora mountains and that administration had no clue.. you may not like it but the credit goes to the Obama administration.. Even Bush gave him and the military their props.. Dont hate bro...We, (Obama, Bush, U.S Military, Including myself , that was apart of the effort and you too brother had a part in this) We are Americans and United we stand divided we fall

      May 2, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Mad

      Please learn to spell Obama's name with a upper case O. It is people like you that are sneaky racist. I will pray for you and I am very hurt you have this much hate in your heart. This really hurts me to my heart. Please try to find peace with yourself and you will find peace with the world.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Tre

      "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."
      – G.W. Bush, 3/13/02

      Bush's priority was Iraq, not finding the man behind 9/11. He had eight years to complete the mission, but lost interest in a year. Now, Obama gives the order to kill Bin Laden, and you want to give Bush credit?!? I don't get it.

      May 2, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Wesley Moore

      What some of you fail to realize is that we're not in a full blown Holy War. We're fighting their version of white right-wing extremists. Yes those extremists try to paint the US as the Great Satan who's on a holy war against Islam, but that's not a pill swallowed by the majority of the muslim world. They are still the wacky extremist minority. Now we keep burning Korans, and showing religious disrespect, then we might start converting more to Jihad. Understand, the overwhelming majority of Muslim clerics around the world, renouse Jihad with the west. You wouldn't believe how agressively we're being played against each other. Ultimately whoever has the most gullible populace will probably strike the first "true holy war" blow. Like what Glen Beck suggested, to "Put him in a meat grinder with a pig".. and "fill every orifice of his body with bacon bits!" Although, that was the most hillarious thing I heard anybody say all day, it was also the dumbest.

      May 3, 2011 at 5:56 am |
  20. Avi Schwartz

    Burial at sea ..an elegant lie!

    May 2, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • Larry

      What would convince you – a long form of his death certificate?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Greg

      ANOTHER CONSPIRACY THEORIST HEARD FROM. We have the Birthers, The Truthers and now the Deathers.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • chazzz

      ...DING DONG...THE WITCH IS DEAD !!!!

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

      So how many times does this make for Bin Laden to die? Jeeze talk about a cat with 9 lives. Sorry sheeple, I'm not buying it, it's a convenient cover-up to keep folks away from the truth. Good for poll numbers though – People can burn the Koran, bomb the crap out of a country under the pretense of fighting terrorism killing thousands of innocent, but they are worried about the rite of burial? Sorry I didn't take my stupid pill today.

      May 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.