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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. Roscoe Chait

    We have many different interpretations of how bin Laden was "buried." I don't care about any compassion shown to this mass murderer. I like to think of the shooting as a Mafia hit. I can only dream that the Navy Seal who took him out said: "You will swim with the fishes tonight." I can imagine sharks tearing that worthless body apart, digesting it and then pooping it out. But that's just me.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  2. america first

    I do believe we killed him. I think our outstanding military is responsible. I think the prez used too many I, me and my 's in his speech last night. It was the military and CIA who actually accomplished anything via Bush era edicts.

    I think the burial at sea is a fishy story, why again? He did not deservea proper burial, Muslin or not. Why are we so sensitive to giving him a proper Muslim sendoff..he was a murderer regradless his religion.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:34 am |
    • Dennis

      It's called tact and diplomacy. Look them up. You may find the concepts illuminating.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • Alyssa

      The Bush era edicts were to avert attention to Iraq. It was Obama's plan to return troops to Afghanistan and to intensify the search for Osama.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  3. CT

    This proves Islamic burials are only for the likes of bin laden. LOL. Anyway, pity the seals and marines creatures that have to devour this devil....

    May 3, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  4. Jetsteam

    The burial (at sea) was not necessarily based on “compassion of Islamic law,” but much more pragmatic in nature. It had to do with not upsetting Muslims about appearing disrespectful of Islamic law as that could potentially push more Muslim extremists to become active in attempting to harm the United States and its allies. It was a strategically sensible thing to do. It was the right thing to do…including for some of the reasons expressed by the commentator.

    As for “humanity” rebuilding “our relationships with each other,” indeed a virtuous proposition…but it is also time that many more great moderate Muslims – by far the majority of Muslims – become increasingly vocal and active in denouncing the violence carried out by the extremist factions. Muslim extremists have to fear the wrath of their moderate Muslim brothers and sisters for this to go away. This is true for all religions. The predominant opposition to extremism has to come from within.

    But it is worth repeating that America and Europe are not at war with Islam. They are at war with extremist Muslims like bin Laden and those like him who want to hurt and destroy innocent lives, regardless of religion and nationality.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • NY State Girl

      Do you honestly believe they give a .... if we buried him at sea, or flushed him down the toilet. They hate Americans, it's sleeper cells all through out the United States, they will try to attack us reguardless. It doesn't matter how we bury him, don't you think he planned even after his death (orders to be carried out) It doesn't stop at his death. To hell what they think what about what we think? all those victims bodies that were decentagrated. People never found or identified, he doesn't deserve a proper burial. His followers that believe in his cause will continue to fight for their sick beliefs and they will attack us if they can even if he's buried at sea. SO COME ON

      May 3, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • arkie115

      Just an old history teacher wondering.. Does anybody else see the correlation between the Catholic Church of the Dark Ages and the Muslim Faith of today? Is it time for the Muslim Faith to produce their Martin Luther?

      May 3, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Jetsteam

      @ NY State Girl: You have to differentiate between active and inactive Muslims with extreme viewpoints and also realize that there are different degrees of extremism. There is the perverted Al-Qaeda type who will indeed stop at absolutely nothing. But there is also the ‘21-year old man from Albania who killed two U.S. servicemen at Frankfurt Airport in March’ type. He acted spontaneously and alone. The gunman allegedly saw an online video which upset him, and as a result two American airmen lay dead in front of Terminal 2 a few days later. This is what the U.S. government is trying to prevent by respecting Muslim law.

      Of course, bin Laden does not deserve a proper burial. But the burial is NOT about bin Laden; it’s about preventing innocent Americans from being killed on the streets of London, Islamabad, Omaha, or Terminal 2 at Frankfurt Airport. It is important that we don’t mistake strength and resolve with foolishness.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • Alyssa

      I'll echo Jetsteam here. If by "they" you mean all Muslims, then that's a ridiculous generalization of over a billion people. We should care about what they think. Like it or not, we have to learn to get along with Muslim nations, even if it means we disagree on issues.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  5. Sister Vivianne

    Before Osama was a notorious revolutionary folk hero of the Islamic world, he was actually just a man, with a vision, with incredible desire and will to try to create something he believed would liberate his people. He was overzealous and he became the thing that he himself hated the most. If I could be allowed to pray for him, I would ask for mercy for him. Yes, justice he already got from mankind. Perhaps God can be merciful, in memory of what he once was, and not of what he had become. Once, he was great. But at the last, he was the most hated of the hated. We each can only hope that we are never tempted to follow his example.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • rkt210

      You just wrote a perfect description of Adolph Hitler...

      May 3, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  6. r smith

    difference between muslim extremists and mohicans:
    there will never be a movie "The Last of the Muslim Extremists"

    May 3, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Peter F

      I love it.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  7. paul

    First off, do what you want with your comments. Anonymity is just part of the game, but I've got to tell some of you, you would never say some of these things face-to-face. Be honest with yourself! My take: A simple photo of the dead Osama would have sufficed. The last thing we'll ever want to be like, are the Islamic extremists, who parade their decapitated victims through the streets. We should never lower ourselves to that diabolical level. Just get the job done, flash a pic if need be for proof's sake, and move on! I do believe our administration owes the 9/11 victims that much..

    May 3, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • NY State Girl

      I agree

      May 3, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  8. amigay

    Glad we could send him on to his 72 virgins...hope they all have PMS.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Kita

      Nah, it'll be like Family Guy. He'll get to Heaven and find seventy two pimply-skinned geeks and Star Trek cosplayers playing Magic the Gathering online.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • b27607

      who said the 72 virgins would be women, they could all be like Clay Aiken. :p

      May 3, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • NY State Girl

      That's a good one. lol

      May 3, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  9. fairy

    and another fairytale!! buried in sea.. a terrorist.. blah blah blaaaaaaaaaah.. and where was saddam buried?! did anyone build a shrine for him.. or tried building it.. blaaaaaaaaaaaahhh lame excuses.. sharia here sharia there.. nomansland crap!!

    May 2, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Kita

      Saddam was a maniac who had some followers and many enemies, but he was NOT in bin Laden's league when it came to inspiring people for all the wrong reasons. It's good that bin Laden's body is well out of easy (possibly all) reach, and good riddance.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  10. Reality

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims without spending a dime to track down the terrorists associated with this "peaceful religion":

    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

    Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:

    Abraham and Moses never existed.

    Added details upon request.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Me

      please share and prove all us droolers wrong.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  11. vikingwoman

    I'm glad an opressor, lunatic & terrorist is dead! Sometimes the death penalty is the only option. He called himself a Muslim, but just as any overzealous, religious, fanatic he went over the Dark Edge & became a murderer for his interpretation of his religion. History is full of examples of people with his affliction. Khalid Latif not only presents a sane face to his much maligned religion, but writes astutely why a burial at sea was appropriate for bin Laden. Many may say he was not worthy of the burial of a junkyard dog, but then we'd be just like him! No regard for human life!! Now comes the time of healing& perhaps understanding that our Muslim neighbors have feared& been disgusted by bin Ladens activities & behavior in the name of Islam. Hopefully some healing can begin ,now, but also vigilance as his followers will be irate & unstable. This is an incredible decade celebration& memorial!

    May 2, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  12. \o/

    No offence but I don't think anyone cares about how his body should or shouldn't be buried the fact is he killed over 3,000 people and leaving kids with no dad or mom all everyone an the U.S really cared about was finding him either dead or alive in which case dead now everyone can rest at peace!!!!!

    May 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Me

      Will someone let the TSA know? Thanks.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • b27607

      but what about the hundreds or more people that could be killed because not burying him with respect would incite people in the Middle East? Why not save lives and at the same time not give his followers a place to gather and idolize him? They clearly thought it out, bravo to them.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • TSA

      We enjoy groping and molesting Americans and have no plans to stop doing so.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  13. punkhater

    who is this punk?

    May 2, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  14. Smokey Waterrz

    Burying Bin Laden in accord with Islamic law was nothing less than an intelligent exercise of respect for the followers of Islam. To have done otherwise would be to give extremist more of a reason to hate America.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • rkt210

      Exactly. This is a simple concept. Still, there are dolts who question it.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  15. chieatfetus

    I heard they wrapped him in white and threw him off a plane over the ocean......this was frm cnn on xm: what if his body floats?

    May 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Will S

      They put weights in the shroud. Standard routine for burial at sea.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • pazke

      They didn't drop him out of a plane. They tipped the board up and let him slide off as with most burials at sea.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  16. Hunter

    Anyone who thinks this is a fake is NUTS! Paranoid thinking. Delusional. Insane.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • JE

      Just like all those folks who think Obama is a Muslim born in Kenya....sadly, I do believe they will carry this new refrain, to those who brought you faked moon landings, now we have faked terrorist deaths

      May 2, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  17. Pestilence

    Compassion; perhaps. However, it also disallowed the extremists from creating a shrine of his burial site; or their ability to relocate his remains and take them to a "holy site" of their choosing; making a martyr out of him. On the other side of that coin; it also disallowed his enemies from defacing his gravesite also. It was the perfect transition for his soul on the way to hell...

    May 2, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  18. Brbarian

    and the propaganda continues

    May 2, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  19. Sam

    Navy SEAL to Bin Laden: "Say hello to my little friend!"

    May 2, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  20. soul sold separately

    I was hoping to see Bin Laden stuffed, taxidermy style, and propped up in an exhibit in a New York City museum.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:28 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.