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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. Candide

    My cup of news overfloweth! Not only did we just get treated to a royal wedding. But the wrong Pope is being beatified. His predecessor should be the one. Unfortunately, he lasted only thirty-three days as Pope. He wanted to OK contraception that works, the pill included. That did it! I remember reading of the great haste with which his body was dispatched. Everybody should read the book written on that subject, In God's Name, an Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I. by David A. Yallop. I hope the bin Laden news we just got is the truth. I would hate to see the "deceased" pop back into view. It is a fairly well known fact that tyrants live in fear of assassination and often have one or more "doubles." Hitler is supposed to have been a case in point.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  2. Jon Weiss

    Dumping Bin Laden's sorry butt in the ocean does not show reverence for Islamic law, it only demonstrates the weak nature of Obama and his ongoing hypocrisy of claiming "transparency" while actually revealing NOTHING.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  3. Teetu

    I don't think Islamically it was right to bury him at sea, because no one has the right or authority to judge him once has died except for God. You cannot declare him anything and decide it was is more appropriate; because you are basing your ideas on conjecture and not solid facts.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  4. Lucy

    Burial at sea seems to be the best choice. no countries wanted him (thank god) and no opportunity for memorializing him (don't want to type his name). After reading a bunch of comments, I see that some people forget that not all Muslims are extremists. Not all Muslims want to kill or hate western people or Americans. There are good and bad people on this earth. I see we tend to forget that.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  5. JGanem3

    I can't rationally express my thoughts here because my anger is still too high. Bin Laden is dead, as he should have been a long time ago. I'm confident we could have had him a long time ago. With our sophisticated surveillance systems, it should have been much faster. However, we could not get support for building more weaponry without this evil man still at loose. He served a purpose, one that I don't agree with. Now that he's dead, we'll find someone else to demonize. Many people around the world, and in our own country suffer and need help. Why not turn our resources in these directions instead of continuing down a path that has deeply indebted us and created enemies of former friends and admirers across the world. We still have troops in Korea, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Get OBL off the headlines, bring our troops home and start rebuilding our sense of values and purpose.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  6. Lenas

    Burial at sea shows compassion of Islamic law, why do we need to have compassion for a monster who didn't care for the 3000 Americans he killed on September 11, 2001? He didn't care for them, he didn't care what happen to their bodies, so why should I care what happens to his body after death?

    May 3, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • idiocy plague

      yes, why do you care?

      May 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  7. shah

    Couple of questions......name of the Sea? Why no where sea name is mentioned. From Islamabad Sea (if at all Arabian Sea) is really far. Secondly sea / ocean tendency is never keep dead bodies inside.....so eventually his body will come to the shore one day and this can be probably Mumbai......So chances of terrorism attach in Mumbai once again!!!

    May 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  8. Jake

    It is said that they buried him with a strip of bacon in his mouth. Deserved it.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • idiocy plague

      i love bacon.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  9. Kevin

    Didn't the Prophet kill a lot of people? And arn't Muslims SUPPOSED to model their lifes after the Prophet? Sounds like a pretty easy conclusion.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Concerned

      The Prophet didn't kill a whole lot of people. You need to learn about the history before you make any sweeping statements like that. The only period in time in which there was an active war with Muhammad was when the people from Mecca who banished him to Medina followed Muhammad in order to kill him for spreading the religion of Islam and destroying the pagan gods of the old Middle East. Muhammad then asked for the Jews, Christians and Muslims Medina to help in repel the men who were coming to destroy Medina. A battle was fought, and the PEOPLE OF MEDINA, not the Muslims, were victorious. This is also not mentioned in the Qur'an at all, but a moment of history.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  10. fg1view

    The American don't want bury the Osama bin Laden on the ground to avoid which can become the Monument of the Radical Islamic.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • The Man

      That I agree with.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  11. Priscilla

    As Obama said, he is not at war with Islam. So for him to respect their spiritual ways and demand that Osama be buried with Islam tradition, I found was a very powerful statement from him and I agree that no matter how terrible of a man he was, the Islam tradition must still be respected to have good ties.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • The Man

      You know . . . you're an idiot. They'll still want to kill you and me.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • idiocy plague

      The Man, YOU'RE an idiot if you still don't understand the difference between Muslims and terrorists (and Christians and Jews, etc...) Quit being the weak link of our country.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  12. PraiseTheLard

    Oh, no...

    Now when we'll see cars that have a fish symbol on them we won't know what they really mean...

    May 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Fiona

      Unless it's the fish that's just bones.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  13. Fiona

    I think the main reason for the sea "burial" was to avoid establishing yet another martyr shrine for the extremists. Expediency was the second reason - and a good and necessary one. Compassion? Fat chance. When I read about the body being dumped into the sea, my first thought was that a few of those involved probably spat on it first. I hope they did.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  14. Muneef

    Thought martyrs are buried with out washing since it is said that upon resurrection the blood stains of the martyrs becomes to release a smell of an incense....but the best they can do if it was him who was killed and to be buried in the sea is to chose the deepest point of the Arabian sea or Indian Ocean and then tie his corpse to a heavy piece of steel or rock to dive down to bottom rather than being washed out to shores which will have a reversed reaction if it did....

    May 3, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Eileen

      That possibility worried me too because I don't think they used coffin like they usually do.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Eileen

      I had a concern about that too, since I don't think they used a coffin like they usually do.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  15. Aces

    "a main objective of Sharia law is to increase benefits and reduce detriments to society"

    are you fi'ng kidding me?

    May 3, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Verna Kitson

      What do you *know* about Sharia that would cause you to disagree? Notice I said *know*, not imagine, assume, or impute from how people have used Sharia.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  16. raul

    I think they( president obama and his team) watched "transformers" before killing Bin Laden so they came up with the idea to bury him in deep sea like Megatron.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  17. MotoJB

    Burial at sea shows....NOTHING! THE WHOLE WORLD DESERVED TO SEE HIS HEAD ON A PLATTER. Then Gen Petraus should have publically drop kicked his head into the ocean. Without the proof of a body, the rest of the world is NOT at ease. This will simply get dismissed as more US lies/deceit by the crazy people that follow/believe in him.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Gromit801

      You no better than the Islamic extremist you hate. You should move to Iran, sounds like your kind of people.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Faye

      I agree with you i dont think ben laden is dead its all lies

      May 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  18. Jame

    yesterday when I read the CNN article about Osama being buried at sea to 'respect' his religious beliefs I was perplexed, and now even more after reading this. Why are we respecting anything Osama believed in? He believed that it was right to kill THOUSANDS of our innocent Americans whom he ordered killed and were 'buried' by the remains of the Twin Towers. Of these, how many people did he kill and their families never got to bury them at all? Or only bury pieces of their crumbled bodies?? This makes me sick. To be honest I'm not sure what I would feel appropriate, but the fact that we buried him at sea to 'respect' his beliefs is a comment that doesn't sit well with me.

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

      It's because the Obama administration is too concerned with angering the already angered radical muslim population by desecrating the body/death of their beloved Osama Bin Pigden.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • vanessa

      We show respect because that is what it means to "be the bigger man." Yes, we all wanted to pee on his grave– but that is not how you build relationships others.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Ben

      The point is to respect the religion of Islam. We are not a country that drags bodies through the streets. We are not cruel in victory. America and Americans are better than that.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • The Man

      i agree with you 100%. My bro was killed on 9/11 and I personally did not see any sense to dragging Bin laden's body through the streets or whatever. But I definitely see it as an insult to the Muslim world to act as though he should be revered as a devout 'Muslim'. If he lived his religion then somethings wrong. i also realize that transporting that particular body would create a security risk. But for crying out loud, just throw him in the sea(no ceremonial crap), bring back photos for those of us who want closure, and call it a day.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • lmt

      I didn't view the burial at sea to be done to respect his religious beliefs most likely it was to prevent his grave from becoming a shrine to the extremests. Muslims are usually buried in the ground with their faces pointing east toward Mecca. Giving any consideration to Osama's religious beliefs is unwarranted afterall his victims and their families were not given the chance to have their religious beliefs respected when this lunatic murdered them. Sadly many of the loved ones remains would never be found.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Sid

      You're suggesting that we should act like Osama. Granted, vengeance is human nature, of course, but it's stupid. We need to be BETTER than our enemies. If we let their hate become our hate, then we lose the moral high ground. I'm sorry you see this as weakness. In fact, it's a strength to deny one's baser, animal instincts and to act according to one's principles, even when those priciples are difficult. Indeed, we keep expecting/hoping that the terrorists will renounce the very violence that you suggest we should use on them in retaliation. Stupid. Satisfying, but stupid.

      Sid

      May 3, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Verna Kitson

      Would you have preferred for his body to be hacked to pieces and scattered to the sharks? Or, that the navy folks do something particularly nasty to his body to insult or mock his faith or to ensure that he went to the Christian notion of hell? Would you really want to ruin your chances of going to heaven by doing that to someone you despise? No matter how objectionable you might consider someone else, s/he is still human beings. That's why you are upset: because s/he chose to act against and cause suffering to other human beings. He was killed; he wasn't allowed to kill himself. That's punishment enough. Indeed, by burying him according to Sharia law, he is now being forced to reckon with his God about how he lived. He probably wasn't looking forward to that.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Amen Vanessa and Sid.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Bruce

      Jame, we showed OBL's body respect because we are better than him, and because our military is full of professionals.

      I REALLY hope and pray that the reports are accurate and that everybody involved maintained their professionalism and didn't act like the some of the idiots who are posting here apparently wanted them to act, that they rose above their raw emotions of the moment and did their job like good sailors.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Warren

      To bury bin Laden respectfully elevates the US forces above the level to which bin Laden sank. It is justice that his life end, but to do anything further to his body would be revenge, not justice. If the situation sank into revenge, then one side would sink as low as the other. I know not all Americans are Christians, but it would show a good level of Christian charity not to degrade bin Laden's body. Let us always take things to a higher level instead of sinking to a lower one.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  19. Alex Gessong

    Excellent blog post! Peace be unto you all.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  20. ...

    I like what you said about American unity
    islamically however, I don't think you know what you're talking about. Before you apply rules of islam and turn them around to the way you want to understand them, PLEASE ask someone who knows and learn it the right way.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      He's a Muslim chaplain. He probably has a a very good understanding of Islam!

      May 3, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • vanessa

      And what, pray tell, is the "right" way? His interpretation seems just fine. Can you elaborate, or did you just want the distinction of disagreeing with him?

      May 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Brian

      the rules of Islam seem to be to enslave women, destroy diversity and kill anyone who doesn't believe the way you do

      May 3, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • sam1

      Couple of questions......name of the Sea? Why no where sea name is mentioned. From Islamabad Sea (if at all Arabian Sea) is really far. Secondly sea / ocean tendency is never keep dead bodies inside.....so eventually his body will come to the shore one day and this can be probably Mumbai......So chances of terrorism attach in Mumbai once again!!!

      May 3, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Jules

      Funny, Brian, that seems to be the underlying belief of several other major religions as well. Extremists in any religion may interpret their holy doctrines to produce the suffering, torture and murder of others as a mechanism to coerce them into adopting their ways of life and their beliefs. Making ignorant statements aggregating the irrational and radical behaviors of extremist groups to an entire religion is evidence for a lack of education and a lack of sensitivity to diversity. If you insist on producing and exhibiting statements of this nature, you may want to consider broadening your scope of accusation to encompass extremist groups representing a more diverse range of religious affiliations. Please note that this comes from an individual who has no religious affiliation and therefore does not possess the biases present within others who do.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:42 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.