May 2nd, 2011
06:31 PM ET

Administration clarifies bin Laden's sea burial

(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.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 9/11 • Death • Islam • Islamic law • Muslim • Osama bin Laden • Sharia

soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. reem

    What a story created and what fools who believe it!!!!!!

    May 27, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Iqbal

      Very truely said... Some fools will believe anything. Also in Islam is not there to bury the body in the Sea. Rubbish... Rubbish.... Rubbish....Guess what idiots will believe it. Hitler used the same strategy of downgrading Jews and he is to say If you say loud enough and long enough anything to people they will start believing and you can use them to do anything you want. Rubbish... Some people in the world are so bad.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  2. Audrey

    Does anyone find it interesting that there has been no mention of the other 4 people that were killed in the attack were buried at sea?

    May 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  3. T-party

    @ muneef after reading your post I can see how no religion makes any sense and people manipulate reality to fit their religion. I a so glad I am free from religion. As an agnostic scientist I feel more spiritual,a better understanding of life,nature and even death.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  4. Muneef

    If he was really killed then God must have wanted him dead for a reason otherwise no one dies before his date or hour as a normal life or as a fighter on the field... God could have had him die by any reason or sleep with out waking up...but God wanted him to die as a martyr since he lived by the sword he died by the sword...

    Burial ground being the ocean was a wise choice made although might have adverse effects since when there is no body then there is no death or crime...so might just become a "Living Legend"... It is hard for me to believe that any land grave would have made people treat as holy man grave that might followers visit as visiting the grave of the prophet or other holy men or of the prophets house family..?? This is not right because I think true educated Muslims are above that thing although possible for those less fortunate who are being abused in belief....
    But as a non religious ideology it might stand having a chance as had Hitler or Linin or Jamal Abdul Nasser...so just God knows who is plays as adviser to decide such burial but just hope it does not make of it more Legendary than it would have been....

    May 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Reality

      For Muneef et al:

      Ending most religions as we currently know them in less than 100 words:

      Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:
      There never was and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam and therefore no more koranic-driven acts of horror and terror

      Saving 2 billion lost Christians:
      There was and never will be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity and no miracles.

      Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
      Abraham and Moses never existed.

      Added details upon request.--------–

      May 4, 2011 at 12:03 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.