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May 2nd, 2011
04:48 PM ET

My Take: Burial at sea shows compassion of Islamic law

Editor's note: Imam Khalid Latif is a chaplain for New York University and Executive Director of the school's Islamic Center.

By Khalid Latif, Special to CNN

I was sitting in a KFC in Brooklyn on Sunday night (halal for those who are worried) with two of my students when my phone started to buzz like crazy as friends, colleagues and family let me know that Osama bin Laden was dead.

As we drove back to Manhattan, President Obama began his address and we watched it on an iPhone and played the audio from 1010 WINS-AM radio.

The students then went to their dorm, and I drove around Manhattan. I found groups gathering here and there, including a larger one in Times Square, but I made sure to make downtown my final destination. I knew I would find something there that my eyes had wanted to see for a long time.

I was 18 years old when the 9/11 attacks were carried out against us. Since that time I have stood at the Ground Zero site as a student, as an NYPD chaplain, as a New York Muslim leader, but all the while as a New Yorker.

I've stood there at times when the streets are full as well as times when they are completely empty. I've seen people cry there, people argue and fight, but last night was the first time that my eyes have seen so many people come and stand together, regardless of their differences.

New Yorkers in all of their diversity came out last night, and I hope it signifies a greater coming together for all of us going forward.

Many people have asked me if the U.S. administration's decision to bury bin Laden's body at sea was appropriate.

In general, Islamic law would state that a Muslim should be buried in the ground. However, everything is not black and white, and a main objective of Sharia law is to increase benefits and reduce detriments to society.

'No land alternative' prompts bin Laden sea burial

The question here is not about how a body should be buried in general, but rather how specifically the body of Osama bin Laden should be buried. The decision to bury bin Laden at sea exemplifies for us how Sharia is meant to function as it takes into consideration what would be best for society on a whole through a lens of compassion and mercy.

Consider these three points:

1) Humanity on a whole has a right that needs to be considered in regard to bin Laden’s burial. Who would want this man buried next to their loved one? Is it appropriate, especially after he has caused such pain to so many, to put anyone in a situation where they might have to be buried near or next to him? I would say no.

2) The number of individuals who hate this man, including many Muslims, is extremely large. If he were buried in the ground somewhere, even at an undisclosed location, eventually we would know where his body was. Years of anger and frustration that have built up because of him would now have an outlet for expression. Whichever country had the misfortune of hosting his body would need to increase security measures around his grave. It's a good thing that no country, including Saudi Arabia, wanted to bury him in their lands.

3) There should be no opportunity for glorification of bin Laden. 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.

On September 11, 2001, I stood in Washington Square Park and watched as the second plane flew into the World Trade Center, changing instantly the lives of many. As New York rebuilds the site, I hope that we as humanity will be able to rebuild our relationships with each other.

What makes New York great is its diversity. And what makes New Yorkers great is our ability to appreciate that diversity. I hope some ease comes to the hearts of each any every person who lost someone on that day - and that together we can begin a process toward healing and reconcilement that our city and nation needs.

- CNN Belief Blog

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

soundoff (735 Responses)
  1. capnmike

    Islamic Law? Just an excuse for murder and violence. This piece of fecal waste should have been buried underneath a pigpen so the porkers could poop on his filthy carcass forever.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  2. Hannah

    Why didn't we give Saddam Husein a decent Muslim burial/ He didn't even attack the US. We dragged him of of his spider hole like a rat and brought him to trial. Why wasn't bin Laden given the same treatment? i don't get it or maybe I do.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  3. Lori

    I believe this is an opportunity, no matter what your beliefs or thoughts are on this matter, it is an opportunity for us all to come together to COEXIST. Humanity in general will come together when there is a threat against us and he was a threat (created or not) to all of humanity. And we will be wiser and more prepared in the future thanks to Bin Laden. No matter where the enemy comes from, humanity will prevail.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • capnmike

      Coexist? Nonsense. It's NOT HUMAN NATURE. The real world is quite different from your idealistic lala-land. Sorry, but that's the way it is.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  4. NoBinLaden

    who cares a s* about his burail, whether it was islamic tradition or not, these clerics who make a cry about this should know that he was not islamic, as they claim that islam is peace loving then disown him, let his body rot.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  5. steve

    Unity through hate and revenge is both viscerally gratifyingly....and spiritually decadent. Sounds like the definition of mankind...no? Weltschmertz sufferers unite.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  6. A Marine.

    I disagree.

    Osama bin Laden was a lot of things, a mass murderer, a sociopath, a serial killer, but one thing he was not was a "good" Muslim – and his burial should not have been treated as though he was one.

    When people look back at Adolph Hitler they don’t say, “Who? Oh you mean that Lutheran man.” They think about the murders that were committed at his hands. Bin Laden is no different.

    Osama bin Laden was responsible for one of the single most devastating acts in our Nation’s history. There have been a lot of good men, who died honorably while serving our country, who have been honored with a burial at sea. The man who was responsible for sending those heroes to their deaths did not deserve the same honorable treatment that they received.

    This was a cowardice act on our part. Most of the people who follow the precepts of the Islamic faith saw bin Laden for exactly what he was – a crazy person who needed to be killed (trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve spoken to hundreds of Muslims in more than a dozen countries, and each one has told me that they support our actions).

    However, once again we cower in a corner terrified of the repercussions that might happen because we, as a Nation, are afraid to offend the small fraction of radical Islamic believers that might have gotten angry. By respecting the feelings of that small group of radicals, we have just disregarded the anguish that so many families felt, both from the terror attack on September 11, 2001 and from the loss of countless brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, daughters, aunts, uncles, and sons in the war that followed.

    Once again, the administration felt that was better to offend its own people than to offend others. Don’t be fooled, this was not an act of respect – this was an act of fear, and I, for one, am sick of turning tale at the slightest hint of retaliation.

    We could have, just as easily, avoided all of the aforementioned problems that this article states if we had brought the body back, displayed it for the world to see, burnt it, and dumped the ashes on a trash barge to be “buried at sea.”

    May 3, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  7. john

    OBL is dead thanks to our Navy Seals,yrs of relentless intel.However..much of the info that led to his eventual whereabouts was gathered through methods that our current president has since outlawed..yet he's quick to take the credit.I do not like this president one bit..i hate him actually..but i give him credit for finally doing something both right and good for the nation..giving the ok on the raid with permission to kill.One bright moment in an otherwise awful and destructive presidency will never convince me to change my views of him..he's arrogant..a narcissist..weak and divisive.He also helped undo decades of improvements in race relations by using it every chance he gets.As for bin Laden getting a formal Islamic burial at sea..what about the 9-11 victims who were incinerated and never found..those families who could never give a proper burial to their loved ones?He should have been given a Sonny Corleone send off..riddle his body unrecognizable with machine guns then kick him in the face for good measure.His burial at sea should have been done using a chum bucket.But he's now getting his..standing before the Almighty and answering to Him as to why he killed thousands including women and children in His name.Rot in hell Osama..you certainly earned it.As for Trump..he's what this country needs..a brash businessman who can fix our economic mess..not a politician whose bought and sold to special interest groups and foreign countries..you idiots that voted in the marxist will soon see what real change and courage looks like.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  8. janelle farris gray

    Well said. my prayer go out to America

    May 3, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  9. john

    OBL is dead thanks to our Navy Seals,yrs of relentless intel.However..much of the info that led to his eventual whereabouts was gathered through methods that our current president has since outlawed..yet he's quick to take the credit.I do not like this president one bit..i hate him actually..but i give him credit for finally doing something both right and good for the nation..giving the ok on the raid with permission to kill.One bright moment in an otherwise awful and destructive presidency will never convince me to change my views of him..he's arrogant..a narcissist..weak and divisive.He also helped undo decades of improvements in race relations by using it every chance he gets.As for bin Laden getting a formal Islamic burial at sea..what about the 9-11 victims who were incinerated and never found..those families who could never give a proper burial to their loved ones?He should have been given a Sonny Corleone send off..riddle his body unrecognizable with machine guns then kick him in the face for good measure.His burial at sea should have been done using a chum bucket.But he's now getting his..standing before the Almighty and answering to Him as to why he killed thousands including women and children in His name.Rot in hell Osama..you certainly earned it.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  10. A

    Thank you for sharing your insightful opinion, Imam Khalid Latif.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  11. Jim in Washington

    As much fun as it is to exult, a much better response would be to act in ways that invites the world's Muslims to be with us, and not villanize them or their faith. The wave of change sweeping the Middle East, gives us a breath taking chance to change the game and bin Laden's death comes at a good time in that light. We should take it by drawing circles around us all and not liners between us.

    Am I really such a Saint? Probably not. This is a good time to dump our little friends the Israelis. I would do it in a second, but it ain't gonna happen.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  12. Bugs

    I want to see photographs. I don't care about anyone's sensibilities or sensitivities. Faith and trust in government right now is at an all-time low. Remember that transparency thing? Well, it needs to be exercised in this matter. Full disclosure – including photographs and video. No, we don't need to know the names and addresses of all the people involved. We do need a full and truthful account – including photographs and video. Grownups can handle it. Presumably, Muslims can, too.

    The fact is, the country – the world – doesn't need to be exposed to year after year of "Is Osama *really* dead?" and "What *really* happened to Osama's body?" and especially "Did the U.S. Government lie about Osama?" The President has a choice. He can turn this into a Kennedy-esque conspiracy hunt, planting further mistrust in people's minds. Or he can authorize the most complete, truthful account possible, and perhaps restore a bit of our faith.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • mikeyd74

      nope hes not dead. we captured him and flew him back to gitmo so we could waterboard him for info... thats sarcasm you tin foil hat wearing nut job. get over it, stop watching fox news, and get a damn life

      May 3, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Doug

      If he's not REALLY dead... how long do you think al-Qaida would wait before releasing half a dozen videos calling the US a bunch of liars? 5, 6 seconds?

      We had an enormous backlash from the people in Iraq (even those that hated Saddam) for the videos and pictures that got released. Cultural differences. We showed that Saddam was being cared for, getting his scalp checked for bugs he might've picked up in that hole, etc... and Iraqis saw an embarassing view of a very private process. By not parading UBL around as a trophy kill, we both limit the spectacle that many of our own gruesome or doubting public desire AND the propensity for backlash from the communities so very near the war we're fighting.

      If he wasn't dead, he'd be on a live feed to every jihadist propaganda-spewing site for the next month calling us out as a bunch of liars.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  13. T3chsupport

    The only better option would have been shooting him off into the sun on a d!ldo shaped pink rocket.

    ... but they had to cut the space budget 🙁

    May 3, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • mikeyd74

      +1 for "d!ldo shaped pink rocket"

      May 3, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  14. joe

    garbeg in garbeg out

    May 3, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Katie

      What's garbeg?

      May 3, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  15. Katie

    Bin Laden is dead. He is not a martyr, there is no shrine for people to flock to, no stories of torture for them to rally around in his name, no legend that elevates him to some hero status that his twisted followers can retell. He died using a woman as a shield, like the coward he is. Good job President Obama and awesome work Navy Seals!! Not only did they find the guy, they took him out cleanly, and he met his Mohammed, who no doubt showed him what the sword was really for – not to slay innocent people, but to stop one's personal corruption on the path to holiness. Bin Laden will find out what true Islam has in store for him in the afterlife – it's not pretty. I say again good job President Obama and awesome work US Navy Seals.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  16. Michael

    Fantastic article!! This demonstrates that we can live together harmoniously. However, to do so we must respect our differences and from there begin to heal these deep wounds. One of my very best friends is a Muslim from Pakistan. We've shared many a meal together and respect the customs and wishes of the other. I hear everyday that the Muslims want every non-Muslim dead and it saddens me greatly. I have read the Koran and it nowhere states that non-Muslims should be exterminated. We as a society need to stop trying to impose our beliefs and customs on others and respect the beliefs and customs of others!
    When I first heard the news of his death I wanted his body quartered and sent to every corner of the globe as a message. After the initial rush had passed I realize that this behavior was no different than his misguided thinking. He was a horrible and extremely misguided person and the world is a better place without him. But he was a human being and deserved a burial as any other human. Regardless of the fact he denied that same treatment to so many others. To have denied that would only be stooping to his level of depravity! I am proud to call myself an American more than ever for this act of compassion.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  17. Nina

    I CANT BELIEVE PEOPLE BELIEVE THIS GARBAGE!!!!!!!!!

    May 3, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • JimboJones

      Enlighten us to the facts. We're all ears.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  18. tsmith

    I wish they would've taken a model airplane, attached explosives to it and flew into his face

    May 3, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Katie

      Yes, amazing, isn't it? That some people are still so riddled with hatred that they simply won't understand that Bin Laden was a nutjob extremist, not any kind of an example of Muslims or Islam.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Bob

      Pure genius.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  19. TXJack

    Compassion for Islamic Law?
    Really?

    Then why not bury all the others at sea we killed that night???
    Or do we just show compassion for who we choose?

    I do not doubt that Osama is Dead.
    However I do not think that we had anything to do with his death.

    We have been monitoring his whereabouts since 2007.
    Everybody knows that Osama was in poor health due to Kidney failure.

    The current administration probably picked up a transmission that Osama was dying.
    So what better way to look good and get reelected then stage a raid.

    Then get the body, burn the place to the ground to get of evidence that Osama was dying.
    Most important get rid of the body by a burial at sea so there would be no proof that he died of Kidney failure .

    One of the commanders even stated that Osama did not have a gun or did not try to reach for one.
    So then why shoot him in the head 2 times??

    Why not bring him to trial for the murder of 3,000 people??

    Do you really believe everything that you read and they show you on TV ??

    May 3, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Nina

      exactly TXJack. He either died of kidney failure or in 2007 by Pakistani rebels (remember Benazir Bhutto)? She stated in an interview that she knew who killed him, shortly after she was assasinated. Since the US couldnt take "credit" for capturing Osama, they staged a sloppy "burial at sea" scenario, claiming to suddenly give a damn about Muslim burial traditions? Really? What makes this even more pathetic is that people are actually really believing it, and celebrating!!!!

      May 3, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • lulu

      Sounds like you do!

      May 3, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Katie

      Are you willing to spend the money to put him in a secure prison for many years while the government figures out how and where to try him, while his followers protest and gather strength all around the world? Did you not listen to them say this man used a woman as a shield when the Seals stormed his compound? Do you really think Bush knew where the guy was in 2007 and left him alone? As inept as Bush was, even he wouldn't have passed up the opportunity to have the GOP redeem itself for all the lies about Iraq and the unfunded wars that put us into such debt. (And lets not forget all the lives lost in those wars and all the lives maimed or just ruined because of those wars...)

      May 3, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • MARK

      I COULDNT SAY IT ANY BETTER TXJACK. I AGREE WITH YOU 100%....

      May 3, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • JimboJones

      Three words: Conspiracy, Nutjob, You.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Bob

      Conspiracy theories – here they come!

      May 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  20. Ec1warc1

    Is it possible that burial at sea spells "Cover up" ?

    May 3, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Katie

      You anti-Obama people like your conspiracy theories, don't you?

      May 3, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Davethecanuck

      ...everything looks like a nail to a hammer.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • mikeyd74

      no, but it does spell "tin foil"

      May 3, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • ladydi

      IM SURE THERES A COVERUP – DOES A BEAR SHEET IN THE WOODS??????

      May 3, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • KawiMan

      Only a moron like you would make a rhetorical question like that.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Bryce

      Islamic law, talk about an oxymoron. Can you imagine the U.S. military sending Osama off with dignity? I bet they just pitched him off the side of the boat.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • JimboJones

      Only to conspiracy nutjobs. Rational people can work it out for themselves without having to call attention to themselves by asking stupid questions on public web forums.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • adam

      Is is possible that "Ec1warc1" spells "idiot"?

      May 3, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
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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.