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. Autumn

    Thank you for the commentary, Chaplain Latif. I am not Muslim, but my Muslim friends and acquaintances largely feel the same way you do. It deeply saddens me that a man (bin Laden) with so much potential for good, with so many options to make a positive change in this world, chose to walk a dark and twisted road leaving such death, destruction, and suffering. I can only assume that he was, in some way, mentally ill ... which does not in any way excuse his actions. I believe the burial at sea is the best option for all the reasons you spelled out. Again, thank you for such considered commentary.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • RAWoD

      I am sad because once again we've fouled the ocean.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  2. iminim

    Bin Laden deserved to be fed to swine and wind up as porcine fecal matter. The US & the world deserved the method of body disposal that would serve the cause of peace best. I'm glad cooler heads & more far-thinking minds than mine planned OBL's body disposal.
    Anything that promotes peace is more of a slap in OBL's face than any of the imaginative ways so many of us would have chosen to dispose of him. A proper Muslim burial by your greatest enemy! No shrine for your body! No funeral procession! Rejected by every country in the world! Take THAT OBL!

    May 3, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  3. Mudassir Ali

    Osama's body was treated humanely because American Navy Seals and the operation planners were way better than Osama. A dead-body of even the worst enemy deserves humane treatment. Osama was a hideous monster, an evil, a murderer, and an ugly stain on the name of Islam and Muslims. Still, Americans did not steep low to his level. They treated his dead-body humanely, and that's why I have no doubt in my mind that the ideology of Al-Qaida, Osama and Taliban is doomed to fail; and the ideology of peace, love, humanity, and freedom will prevail.

    Long Live USA!

    May 3, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  4. TheyCallMePete

    If only they (Al-Qaida) had shown the same compassion with Daniel Pearl...

    May 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  5. Jerome

    With the second round (the reassurance round), compassion doesn't fit in any where.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  6. Andy

    I agree, burial at sea was the best option.

    – A

    May 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  7. Jay

    funny,,I thought we would find Hussein in a Mansion and Bin Laden in a whole in the ground,,who would have thought it would end up the opposite

    May 3, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  8. Carl LaFong

    These conspiracy theories regarding bin Laden's death are hilarious. Can't anyone just believe that it happened the way it happened and the issue be done with? It's becoming ridiculous.

    Now, the comments that I am a stooge of the US Government and media begin in 5,4, 3, 2,1 . . . .

    May 3, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  9. Jay

    crazy that when i was watching the news it had a split screen with 1 guy saying the buried him with all the muslim traditions to show respect to islam and on the other side of the screen it had people singing na na na na hey hey hey goodbye!!!

    May 3, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  10. just me

    The only picture I want to see of Bin Laden is him floating around in the sea, with an American flag up his a** while the fish feast

    May 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  11. Stefffs

    “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Man Ro

      What a wonderful thing to say! I've been feeling a bit like I don't fit in with my lack of celebration and happiness over a death.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  12. Lisa

    This was a very good article.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  13. Sally

    They buried him at sea because not country wanted him, not even Pakistan.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  14. robert

    Any muslim terrorist deserves to be wrapped in bacon and buried face down! If that is done, perhaps there would be fewer terrorists.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Alyssa

      Right, just like the death penalty deters crime.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • RAWoD

      @Alyssa - The death penalty DOES deter crime. Those put to death do not ever commit another crime.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • John

      Examine in history, General "Black Jack" Pershing in the Phillippines in 1911. Caught a bunch of terrorists and killed all but one. On the dead bodies he poured pigs blood and guts. He allowed the one to return to the terrorists camp. There weren't any terrorist attacks for 50 years.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • RHQuad

      Since we started our involvement in the Middle East over 9/11, I've grown to loathe the fact that I share a country with people who think like you.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • RHQuad

      John – Examine Snopes. That story has been proven false. Please stop perpetuating it.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  15. Scott in NH

    Hmmm, I didn't know that there were halal KFC's in Brooklyn, I wonder if they are also Kosher as well. You can have chicken that is both Kosher and Halal and you can follow Kosher and Halal rules without conflicting each other.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Richard Johnson

      Guess I missed the part where he said he was eating at the KFC. I've been known to accompany friends to the restaurant of their choice when I'm not eating.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  16. Don

    Let's just call bin laden what he is today........CHUM.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • SCMomof2boys


      May 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • RAWoD

      How sad: BP fouled the ocean. Nuclear power fouled the ocean. Now we throw in a massive piece of "evil goat fancier".
      It is time to do something nice for mother earth.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  17. Walter Sieruk

    If it's true that Osama bin Laden was just a criminal who hijacked the religion of Islam and not a true Muslim as some Muslim apologists claim, then why is is then so important that his remains be taken care of in accordance to standard Islamic burial practice ?

    May 3, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Mudassir Ali

      Because we are different from Osama. A dead-body of even the worst enemy deserves humane treatment. Osama was a hideous monster, an evil, a murderer, and an ugly spot on the name of Islam and Muslims. Still, Americans did not steep low to his level. They treated his dead-body humanely, and that's why I have no doubt in my mind that the ideology of Al-Qaida, Osama and Taliban is doomed to fail; and the ideology of peace, love, humanity, and freedom will prevail.

      Long Live USA!

      May 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Heena

      I am a Muslim, and I felt angry that Bin Laden was being buried with due respect as a Muslim. I did not believe him to be a Muslim, let alone a Muslim leader. However, I believe that a proper burial was important to keep the enemies quiet for the time being. I think it was for the security and safety for all around the world.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  18. EKIA

    He doesnt deserve any compassion whatsoever. He should have been thrown through a woodchipper and what was left of him spread evenly over a cesspool. That's what he deserves. I have zero compassion for that piece of garbage.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Doug

      He's already dead, moron. All the self-obsessed nonsense in the world won't hurt him.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  19. Sniper

    Missed opportunity! Bury his head in a marked grave, put IUD's all around, then post location on the internet.
    Problem solved.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Rob J.

      Interesting idea but I don't think there's a danger of anyone fornicating on bin Laden's hypothetical grave so your concern about birth control is a bit misplaced.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Alyssa

      I suspect you'd have a lot more attention from tourists and curiosity seekers than by loyalists.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Jon

      Rob J.– absolutely fantastic comment. You made my day.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • aliya

      IUD's? inrauterine devices? that will be funny. Of course IED's would have made no sense either since the idea is not to kill random people who happen to be walking around the burial site

      May 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Eileen

      Hmmm. What a difference one little vowel makes.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  20. Don F.

    You are all clueless about this situation. The government handed the body over to the aliens with whom they have been in kahoots since long before Roswell. They took the body for experiementation. They are going to try revitalization technology, as they did with Elvis such that we can expect reports from folks who will see bin Laden walking the streets of various major cities with a certain affinity to ground zero. He will become an important leader of the zombie force that the aliens are ammassing for the control of non-conforming social outcasts and other forms of free thinkers in preparation for the assimilation into the borg.

    We will be doomed as a society when we fail to distinguish between reality and fantasy, wide awake time and dream time, when we sacrifice collective engagement to (re)solve together difficult problems for facination with rumors of conspiricy and a propensity for magical and delusional thinking.

    In the real world, it is in the US interest to minimize the degree to which the death of bin Laden might be used to recruite or motivate al Qaeda operatives (we don't want a picture of a dead bin Laden to become a recruiting poster. We don't want a place of burial to become a shrine for hero worship. We don't want the general Muslim population to think that we are against them by ignoring or otherwise marginalizing their religious customs. So it seems to me perfectly logical that a relatively anonomous burial at sea in full accordance with Muslim custom, would seem to minimize any propaganda value a dead bin Laden might have radicalized jihadists, while at the same time maximizing deference to Muslim sensibilities. In both counts, this approach seems to do the best job of protecting rather than costing American lives both at home and abroad.

    May 3, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Vince

      The 3rd paragraph was spot on!

      May 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • WhatMan

      HA I think you have been watching too much History Channel. I guess the Druids and ancient Mayans were involved as well.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Sniffit

      @ Don F. Your third paragraph simply re-makes a point the author also makes in his article...albeit you do so in an angry manner as if he didn't make that point. He is, in fact, not clueless and states the same thing you did in your third paragraph in his 3rd numbered paragraph. You either didn't read that far or didn't read all that carefully. It doesn't make the point on which you're so laser focused any less true or valid that there are also other reasons and benefits to the manner in which we disposed of bin Laden's body.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Heena

      Sorry to say that I tuned you out after the word, "clueless."

      May 3, 2011 at 1:06 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.