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. Cheryl

    I think the United States made it clear to everyone that this was an act of justice rather than vengeance, and that this country would behave honorably even when our enemies do not. To me, this was more a statement about who we are as a country than an attempt to appease our enemies. I'm glad our leaders chose to do the civilized thing.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  2. Bucky Ball

    "showen", "photo's", "dones". Sigh.
    Anyway......... this person was NOT buried according to Islamic tradition, despite assertions to the contrary. Islamic tradition would have required his burial on land, according to almost every Islamic expert who has weighed in on this subject in the past day or two. There are many remote locations, (including active volcanoes), where the remains could have been tossed. His burial may have included some elements of Islamic tradition. Did he deserve that respect ? Maybe not, as he never showed that to the many many, (indeed many more Muslims than those of Western traditions), he caused to be murdered over the years. The failure to treat a corpse of any tradition, with respect is problematic to me, as well as is the hateful rantings of some who promote themselves as representing a state of being and belief system which claim to be peaceful, even "holy". Actually it's scandalous. These statements tell me more about their authors than they do about the subject of their statements.
    A consistent theme on these boards seems to be a struggle between those who make assertions, on every side, fail to back them up with evidence, and yet still somehow expect others to swallow them. Saying the moon is made of green cheese does not make it so. Saying this burial was done in a certain manner, does not make it so.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • BG

      " There are many remote locations, (including active volcanoes), where the remains could have been tossed."

      Sure. You would've had my permission to hunker up Kilauea and roll him over... Or maybe you could have just loaded him in a chopper? http://www.hawaiiactive.com/activities/bigisland-heli-hilo.html Oops.. sorry. "carry-on items are limited to essentials."

      May 3, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  3. Skippy

    Why should anybody care about how Bin laden was burried. He is not a Muslim, he is rather a terrorist. The the end of the story.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  4. TV_Preacher

    Hey... the comments are posted with the oldest at the top! Didn't anyone tell the Belief Blog guys that they got it backwards?

    May 3, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  5. Diane Bismonte

    I do not believe that that the pictures of bin laden being buried at sea should be showen. What you are seeing is someone sayng prayers for him and being buried. That means he is being memorialized, I would rather see the photo's of him dead as he dones not desire anything more..

    May 3, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  6. John Richardson

    Well, the one thing I find very strange about the fear of his grave becoming a shrine is that the Wahabbi sect he belonged to is famous for destroyng grave/shrines of others, including Mohammed's mother. But then, all the injunctions against graven images never stopped Bin Laden's or Khomeini's followers from carrying around pictures of their heros. Put it down to religious people once again missing the larger point of their own faiths.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  7. dave

    “Bin Laden himself showed no concern with the burial of Muslims,”


    May 3, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  8. Hate obama

    Obama is a muslim. He is a sleeper cell. The osama was a plant any white person could get plastic surgery to look like osama and why sould he get a muslim burial the trade center people didnt get aproper burial

    May 3, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  9. Eric of the North Dakota's

    So they dumped this supposed corpse of Bin Laden into the ocean ? it sounds like this whole thing could be manufactured to me ! kind of like the who killed kennedy thing ! how will the american people ever truly know that was the body of osama bin laden, and anyway if it was him why should we have showed respect of giving him a proper burial we should have showed no respect for him at all and i want concrete proof that this piece of filth is actually dead ! what im thinking is CIA manufactured story ! i for one am not one to blindly trust in anything anyone says i dont care if it came from the president of the united states of america, are we really so naive to trust they wont lie to us, it probably wouldnt be the first time they have lied to us either ! its funny how hitlers body dissappeared as well !

    May 3, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • Birdie Rotramel

      Eric. WE are a NATION with values. Why would YOU want us to act like OSAMA BIN LADEN. Bin Laden had NO RESPECT for the bodies of all the people from SIXTY different countries on 911, or those of the embassies all over the whole, or those of the thousands of MUSLINS he killed. Having values for human life, WE as a NATION should NEVER stoop to the level madmen and murderers. SHAME ON YOU.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  10. recreative

    Very interesting article. In a way it takes some of the wind out of my sails in my post at Ubuntu Spirit (http://ubuntuspirit.wordpress.com). However, this whole discussion is something very much open to interpretation and debate.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  11. Reality

    Hopefully, his koran was "deep-sixed" with him. Actually, all korans should be thrown into the sea along with the bible and the book of Mormon.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  12. Descarado

    Only a President that kisses the feet of Islam would go out of his way to arrange a Muslim funeral oration and burial for this pig-dog, mass-murderer of Americans.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  13. Mark from Middle River

    Rogue, the excuse and the burying at sea .... from a president who just went through a conspiracy issue... was a bit stupid. This is America, a place where the deaths of JFK was and is still in doubt and where the belief that Tupac, Biggie, Elvis and Bruce Lee are highly questioned. I am suprised that Michael Jackson's death was not doubted but as we can see is still questioned what really happened.

    Also, as soon as they said buried at sea , if I were one of Bin Ladens supporters I do not think it would be that hard to find another to do Bin Laden's voice on the months before the 2012 election. By disposing of the body in such a way Obama and crew just opened themselves up for egg of their face at any time in the coming future.

    And photo's ... they could show photos all day long... all someone has to do is pop in a dvd and anything from Skywaker Ranch (dreamworks) ...

    It was just a bad idea to bury.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      "not" to bury. Heck, keep him on ice in the Freedom Tower .... would make a great lobby work of art 🙂

      May 2, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • Rogue

      @Mark – I thought the Muslim 24-hour rule was a good excuse to use. If no land can be found for his bullet-riddled body then burial at sea was the next best thing.
      But I agree about the level of technology we have these days. Spoofing something is easier now. But perhaps it is impossible to satisfy the questions of a real anti-Obama person...so I also expect this to come up later, much like his birth certificate nonsense after having showed it years ago.
      Please don't tell me you are one of those "birthers"!

      May 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Reality Check

      IAre you saying the President of the United States should cater to the very small minds of people who can not conceive of the truth of events they have not witnessed directly?

      May 3, 2011 at 4:33 am |
    • ColinO

      Ummm, the death of JFK is not in doubt. People watched his head explode. What people have debated was who actually shot him. Regardless, the only people who question those deaths you listed are nut jobs and conspiracy theorists, hardly the majority of the United States. Most rational people will see and understand what took place. They did the right thing burying him according Islamic custom, and they did the right thing by not allowing his body to be paraded around (unlike many of our enemies), as some sort of trophy, this is what separates us from them.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  14. Elite

    Lol they through him off a boat. Winning!

    May 2, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Free

      Oooh, I feel much safer with macho men like these out there protecting us from the evil army of water bottles. 🙂

      May 3, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  15. charidy

    It is not right for people to be celibrating his death i know he has done bad things but no death shoud be happy

    May 2, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Go tell that to all the folks who lost loved ones and co-workers during 9/11.


      May 2, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • metzen00098

      the world is a safer place without him. i can celebrate that

      May 3, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      We should be celebrating the death of this Muslim dog.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  16. Obasama

    It was a thousands KM away from the nearest sea to where he was killed...

    May 2, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  17. TessMo

    Just wondering if anyone noticed the mounds of dirt next to Bin Laden's compound. It looks like it has a wall around it.

    May 2, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  18. wilbur

    Google Muslim tradition, it seems it is pretty strict, they are supposed to be buried on land unless they died on a ship and they are decomposing. Even then they only get lowered a little bit into the water. Could have buried him somewhere in Montana or South Dakota quietly, nobody would have found him........this was designed to make the Muslims mad?

    May 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  19. Adelina

    However the burial goes, everyone will resurrect either for eternal justice or for eternal grace. Revelation 20. Everyone needs Jesus.

    May 2, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • HeavenSent



      May 2, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  20. Mark from Middle River

    "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. "

    There are still Earth moving equpment at a big hole in Manhatten. I am pretty sure there would have been a good place to bury him.

    Amsterdam Vallon: When you kill a king, you don't stab him in the dark. You kill him where the entire court can watch him die.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Rogue

      @Mark – You're sounding more like Hitler every day. When are you going to grow one of those little mustaches? hahaha! Just kidding.
      But you are sounding a little blood-thirsty there. Welcome to the club. 😛

      May 2, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Very appropriate dumping of waste. Feed a shark to the sharks.


      May 2, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Free

      Wouldn't burying him there be just like erecting some "victory mosque" near the site?

      May 3, 2011 at 8:06 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.