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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. David

    I believe that we as a spiritual and Christian nation will look back on the celebration we have done, and be ashamed...

    http://sightlikeaconstructionworker.blogspot.com/2011/05/wheres-patriotism-in.html

    May 2, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  2. maria

    ahaah ah ah ah

    May 2, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  3. SadieSadie

    Okay for all the conspiracy theorists out there, wait and see if bin Laden puts out a rebuttal video. If not then he is dead and you can stop all the insanity. Bin Laden wouldn't allow the US government to claim he was dead, he would be quick to prove them wrong.
    I say that if it isn't released in 24 hours you all promise to crawl back into your holes and put your tin foil hats on.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  4. Dannel Arnold

    I think in a matter as important as this: 10 years and trillions of American dollars spent hunting Al Qaeda, some proof of death is needed. Not to be a "Deather" or morbid... But this is a big deal. People want to know that this is not government trickery or a bid for re election. I want proof. Not "We got him and buried the body, Trust us." If one pays for something, one would like to know he/she got what they paid for. That's true with $100. It's true with a trillion dollars! This government has promised transparency over and over again. Well, lets see it. If it bothers you...Don't look.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • MarkinFL

      So, what is YOUR pet theory?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  5. jaded

    Bury him the coldest part of the earth. Remember the phrase, it will be a cold day in h### when ........ Also, why the sea when it will be used in songs to remember him.by .... the sea touches every continent. Tool.much opportunity for mystical nostalgia. Not many al warrants running around the north pole.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  6. maria

    to everyone God bless America .frist i say Thank to all Soldier that make us the country that we have i am so proud that doesn t mare how he die how he was buried the only thing that i care he is died end of historie. but also make more proud how we are when we made a strong decision that why we are one nation we fell and we stand up stronger we did mistakes we correct them. now up there not only God will made justice . no mera how he was baried remenber that he got kill wt no time for him to pray ah ah ah now will be 3001 against one ahah buried in Hell

    May 2, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  7. les

    Burial? they should have fed his body to pigs and posted the video...........

    May 2, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  8. jaded

    Not a burial at sea as it would provide inspiration mysticism as to seas reaching every county. My preference is to.bury him in the deepest spot in the coldest part of.the earth. They don't favor cold climates.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  9. Chara

    No Islamist..But burying a muslim at sea, is seen as a insult. Terrorist or no Terrorist he shouldn't have been put in the sea. ONLY IN AMERICA.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Show Us The After Birth

      Oh NO ! NOW they are gonna retaliate ! Not that.
      (And that is different fom what they were doing two weeks ago how ? )

      May 2, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Kellly

      I am very shocked to see you say ONLY IN AMERICA. This man killed 3000 american civilians on our soil not to mention all of the men, women and children around the world and you think his being burried at sea is an insult? Frankly, I would much rather have AMERICA disrespect his burriel process then to allow anyone to use his remains as a shrine. Where are you as an american?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • MarkinFL

      chara, you just made that up. There is no insult.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  10. Charlie

    I was going to have fish and chips for dinner. 😦

    May 2, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  11. Christina

    It is a victory either way. No matter who was responsible for it or in what manner the body was disposed of. Stop arguing and just rejoice in the death of such an evil "human being." I don't unserstand why grown people feel the need to argue about who to give credit to and all that. Just breathe a sigh of relief that justice was served.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  12. PAUL

    muslims in parts of africa do cremate body's, this is the first i heard of muslims burying thier dead at sea,

    May 2, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  13. Mark from Middle River

    I know it has been probably been said but Saddam was not buried at sea. Also, his compound that was set fire looks very familiar, like a BBQ that was in Waco Texas a few years ago.

    Decades ago right around the same time Hitler was "supposedly" killed and his body not being found has been an endless controversy as well.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Bucky Ballt

      You forgot Elvis.

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

      Elvis went home

      May 2, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Dannel Arnold

      I have no theories. I'm just saying, don't be so quick to call somebody with questions a nut job. Some of us think those who don't question are nut jobs!

      May 2, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Ed

      I was just making a joke, not a calling anyone a nut job.

      May 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  14. Tom

    The problem with disposing of his body so quickly is that it's going to fuel the conspiracy nuts' claims that we didn't really kill OBL, and it was all just made up to help Obama win reelection. I hope they have plenty of post mortem photos to release, but even then the conspiracy theorists will still say that's not him. The other thing they'll latch on to is the fact that this happened so soon after Obama released his birth certificate, which may not mean much to you or me, but they love to find connections where none exist.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • philtration

      It would not matter.
      Even if they had captured him, had him look right into the camera and say "I am Bin Laden" and THEN shoot him in the head the wackos would still call it a fake.
      Some people are just stupid all day and there is nothing that you can do to cure them of it.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Dannel Arnold

      The problem is none of us really knows what goes on in the white house. People love to call anybody with questions or theories a conspiracy nut. Sometimes the people that make accusation are correct. Should we stop questioning? Go with the program. Those who do that are in my opinion worse. Sheep. Lambs going to slaughter. Have you ever required proof for anything or do you just let the chips fall and deal with it? Maybe you think politics is honest. And for the large majority I think it is. But we all know there are some very dark political hallways where deals are made. Some good and some very bad.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • MarkinFL

      So we should give credence to every conspiracy theory the next idiot makes up out of thin air? Do some REAL research, show some proof, make realistic claims. THEN maybe someone will listen. Until then just STFU.

      BTW, if this is a lie, would not Al Queda shove up our noses with a new video? Are they cooperating with this conspiracy? Dumbest conspiracy theory since the birthers.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  15. Doug

    It surely a stinky situation at a minimum. Anyway I publicy claim copyright to to a video game story plot about this lol!

    May 2, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  16. Obamamomma

    he's fish food now! you go obama and us navy seals! 🙂

    May 2, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  17. dlc

    Kind of scary. Roger , I think we have a problem. Something that reguires more than an emergency bag.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  18. one of the men

    A bullet through the head ? They should of had made bacon out of him while he was yet still alive. And all criminals,regardless of what country they are from! "IN THE NAME GOD I PROCLAIM."

    May 2, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  19. tlocke

    @Larry.. Man I love your posts.. you make a lot of sense.. But dont stoop to the level of idiots.. Let them say stupid things.. Like you said I guess they need to see the long form of his death certificate

    May 2, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  20. dustin helton

    i dont think we should have given him the respect of being buried at sea.they should have tried to keep him alive brough him to the states.let all the victims family take turn throwing rocks and spitting on him.then hang him in the center of NYC and have a hanging.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Charlie

      I keep saying, he should have been nailed to a cross and erected in the middle of Ground Zero.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Jason the Pendleton Rat

      Hey Dusty,
      Relax. "Buried at sea" means they dumped him out of a helicopter, with weights attatched. He got no respect, trust me. I work there. He's shark food. He is no more.

      @one of the men,
      We heard it was a bullet in the left eye. That would have given him just enough time to figure out the paradise/70 virgins thingy was as much a pile of crap, as was the rest of his life.

      May 2, 2011 at 12:37 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.