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. rugbydan

    Osama sleeps with the fishes!!!!!!!!

    May 3, 2011 at 2:05 am |
  2. just-me

    Personally, I'm relieved Osama binLaden is deceased. Please notice I said "relieved" not "glad" or "happy" or "so long MF" as so many do. To each their own. I am relieved because he will no longer be able to tout his brand of hatred anymore. Sure there will be others who follow in his footsteps but in the end, it is with relief I say "so long, farewell and about damn time".

    I think a lot of folks misunderstand the Islamic belief, especially the militant Islamic followers. The Holy Koran does say [paraphrased] "that if you find but one thing to admire or like about someone, you have erased hate from your heart". Those that use hatred to spread hatred lead miserable lives and unfortunately infect others with their hatred and misery. Islamic law also states that yes, it is preferable to be buried in the ground with all proper rights – unless such a burial would be detrimental to society AS A WHOLE. Islamic law doesn't just mean those that follow Islam as the "society" but all of society whether it follows Islam or another belief system. Islam is a nation full of peace-loving individuals who want nothing more than to lives their lives in peace while assisting those who need help through selfless acts.

    This is no different from any other peace-loving religion out there, folks. You might name your saints, your God or other diety with different names but in the end we are all striving for peace at the end of the day.

    If burying Osama binLaden at sea with a brief ceremony that pays respects to his religion is the most peaceful solution for all of society, than I am all for him being buried at sea. The practical side of me says, "well at least a tree won't be cut down to make a box to bury him in and it's one less spot that can't be used for farmland because you can't plow over dead bodies (euw) and for those truly "green" at heart, this is ultimate recycling".

    So, while I have no respect for what he did with his life and how he infected others with his hatred and misery, I am relieved his death has brought peace to millions.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  3. antius

    Burial at sea might have been an insult to a muslim. I am not muslim but I live in a muslim area and I know they bury their dead fast within 12 hours and without a coffin only a shread of clothing. In this case-it is not ordinary person so may be this was needed.

    But I do have caution for fish eaters in the area-you might be eating a fish who had a taste of his body. That way the us has polluted the sea-kind of.

    Further the death of this person is not going to stop an ideology-i think this burning hatred for american and western policies will remain and this is where the real war needs to be waged-that is to change the minds of the people.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:45 am |
    • curiousd

      Note to self: don't eat fish/seafood when visiting the Arabian sea....

      May 3, 2011 at 2:01 am |
  4. Ben

    Lol he wasnt buried at sea, theres no dirt.... DERRRRR. Hmm.. take it this way... America wanted him to have an everlasting adventure with the fishies in the depth's of the ocean. 😀 How positive!

    May 3, 2011 at 1:35 am |
  5. Well.

    I'm going to sound much less civilised, but... we should have burned his dead a**.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  6. sanjosemike

    Note to the author if this article: Imam Khalid Latif. I'm sure you sound like a "moderate" Muslim when writing articles like this. But you and I both know that you absolutely stand for the destruction of israel. It's just that you would never print it here. But among fellow Muslims, you will speak about that. To the rest of us...you'll just lie.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • NB

      What about palestine? Is that fair from Israel? That is a huge load of TERRORISM there, but no one seems to care about that. You don't understand the problems of this world, you have carpeted roads, electricity, water, power. You don't have to beg for food, Do you? The people in Pakistan, Palestine, what do they have? Bullets for breakfast, bombs for lunch. It is as bad as that. There are no jobs, no nothing, the war on terror has run them dry! It is beacause of Osama bin Laden that this war started. But what of the hundred million who have no part in ANY of this. Call them collaterel damage if you may, but where your 3000 have died, our 30,000 have been killed.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • curiousd

      You can read minds? What talent you have!!!!

      May 3, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • seankhan

      Really???? OMG, why does Israel has to come in to everything Muslims talk about?? Are you that guilty conscious? Moderate Muslims like the Imam has no issues with Israel's existence as a sovereign nation, they only speak out against the occupation and aggression, may that be by any nation whether Muslims or Non-Muslims, just like many Israeli's such as Gideon Levy or intellectuals such as Richard Goldstone, Norman Finkelstein and others speak out the occupation, it doesn't mean they want to see the destruction of Israel as a nation, they are only providing sincere advice.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:06 am |
    • CL

      Agree with NB and I am American through and through. I appreciate the voice of reason here. It is unfortunate that so many Americans don't understand the plight of the Palestinian people and what they are subjected to on a daily basis.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:09 am |
  7. Dave

    That's great and all but now he's decomposing in the ocean, the next time I eat Tuna fish it might have Bin Laden bits in it. Mmmmm....tuna fish.

    In the future, just freeze dry him and put his corpse next to Hitlers in Area 51.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:23 am |
  8. Handsome

    Burial at sea only means one thing. They never killed him; He was already dead long ago. This is just a ruse so they can claim completion and go on to another invasion. Who the hell would bury the evidence of a great feat? It's like solving a great mystery and then throwing away the proof. How stupid is that?

    May 3, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • sanjosemike

      Trying to prove something to conspiracy theory nutters like yourself is impossible. No matter what they do, you and your fellow conspiracy people will come up with some kind of excuse to prove it wrong. So why try?

      Trying to prove something to conspiracy nutters is like trying to build a bridge out of cooked spaghetti.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:31 am |
    • sweetness

      you truely are handsome even in your thinking..Bravo!!

      May 3, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  9. Sharon in NM


    1. Why did they need to remove the body from the kill zone to begin with? Why not let Pakistan dispose of the remains....

    2. Do you think they removed his brain to study just as they did with his sisters???

    Just something to think about....

    May 3, 2011 at 1:13 am |
  10. Todd

    While the US is proudly tapping itself on it's back for capturing and killing Osama Bin Laden I certainly have my doubts. I think he died back in December of 2001 of kidney failure. This news only broke now during a time when Obama needs the support from his voters. Doesn't it make you wonder why no pictures of his body were ever shown and that he was imeditately buried at sea?

    If I were the American people, I would demand to see proof of an actual body. What gets me is that they report, yup we found him, killed him and immediately buried him at sea. First of all, I have never heard of a Muslim being buried at sea. If they do this then it's news to me. Second of all, why not show pics and prove to the world that he was indeed caught and killed? Without physical evidence I say it's all a cover up. And here Americans are all rejoicing over this when they should be sitting up and saying where's our proof Obama?

    May 3, 2011 at 1:11 am |
    • KHALIL


      May 3, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • Cub

      I'm with you. I saw Uday, Qusay and th Ace of Spades dead bodies in photo I saw the execution tape of Sadaam. It satisfied my curiosity surrounding the announcement. I would like to see the same of Osama. Why? I don't trust politicians of any cloth, and a precedent has been set. Follow it.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • Makesnosense

      Your theory posits that OBL has been dead for ten years, and by extension, that somehow right at this moment the administration thought it necessary to play the "we killed bin Laden" card...

      So the obvious question is, why does Obama need political support right now at this particular moment? There's no election going on... there's no reasonable GOP contender even threatening his re-election at the moment. If OBL had died in 2001 and his supposed death was going to be used as a political tool, GWB would have "killed" him in 2004 during that heated race, and for sure if not then, OBL would have "died" in 2008 when the GOP really really needed something to distract from the economy.... pretty weak theory Todd.

      Sooner or later the pictures will come out. The Navy Seals did their job, and they quickly put it to bed to reduce inflammation of global extremist movements... once things cool down, I imagine we'll all get more details.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  11. KHALIL


    May 3, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • Que?

      I thought idiots like you died with the dinosaurd?

      May 3, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • Que?


      May 3, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  12. john v.

    I'm confused, I thought most muslims would say that bin laden was not a muslim as they would say he practices a twisted version of islam. Is this true?

    May 3, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  13. buckup

    We should do the same to the leaders of the drug cartels.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:08 am |
  14. Kami Mitteness

    who cares how he was buried...as long as he was. If it makes everyone feel good to say it was a compassionate burial, again who cares? The end result is the same. Let's view this with cautious hope..but remember the legend of Hydra: you cut off one head, and 3 more grow in it's place.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:08 am |
  15. eMAD

    Compliant Chaplaincy!

    May 3, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  16. Sunil

    I find it quite ironic that for a dead body that we have proudly paraded across the world on Television, we should suddently develop a conscience to compassionately bury it at sea. Maybe this little act of compassion hides a deeper lie. For a person who should have been bought to the international court of justice to get a fair trial for his crime against humanity, for him to die of a headshot wound seems a bit dubious. Let the fishes feed on him least he rise from his grave to speak the truth.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:58 am |
    • jimmo

      Are you really the turd you sound like?? What a doushe.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • chris

      you are an idiot...

      May 3, 2011 at 2:25 am |
    • Hassan

      Just so you know, the ICj deals with interstate relations and not individuals.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:31 am |
  17. Saxxon

    He was buried at sea? Sounds "fishy" to me.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • john


      May 3, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • coldfire736

      Is it a violation to throw garbage at sea?

      May 3, 2011 at 2:34 am |
  18. lipservice

    If they did anything for him it was perfunctory at best. Probably a quick Koranic verse and an internal "Insha'Allah M__ F__er" and to Davey Jones' locker he went . Just enough begrudging respect accorded a sworn enemy to befit the warrior ethos. He was a worthy adversary given his resources. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he's gone , but grace in victory says more about a people than common defilement (a la 'wrap him in bacon' crowd) in said situation. Don't you want this to end at some point? The irony is OBL would have hated to have the infidels give him a service and decent burial. Think 2 steps ahead people, don't be so thick-headed.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • CL

      totally awesome response!!!!

      May 3, 2011 at 2:02 am |
  19. 18mnwild

    I am not a Muslim. So I was interested to hear what the Imam had to say here....was the sea burial acccording to islamic law or not? What a disappointing article. I would say this guy is a really weak Imam who should probably be de-frocked or whatever it is Mulims do to lame-a$$ Imams. "Compassion of the islamic law"? What the %$&&%$ is that? Just answer the question – was this a legit burial according to Islamic law or not? The question IS – INDEED – how should a body be buried IN GENERAL!!!! MAybe CNN can find a REAL Imam to answer the question.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:43 am |
    • Bill

      Wow... what did you WANT him to say? Maybe he'll read your comment and then write another article for you.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • 18mnwild

      The sea burial is being characterised as "according to Islamic law". I want him to say whether that is true or not.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:58 am |
    • getabrain

      @ 18mnwild, the Imam DID answer your pathetic narrow-minded question, READ the damn article. he said, "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." and THEN the Imam goes further to explain the specific reasons regarding what's best for society. YOU are weak in mentation...VERY

      May 3, 2011 at 1:35 am |
    • soulafa

      He's saying that under Islamic Law you have the general rule, which is that all the dead should be buried in the ground, but then you have the exception to the rule. Exceptions in Sharia (Islamic Law) may take place in order to "increase benefits and reduce detriments to society". The Imam then lists the reasons why Islamically it is appropriate that Bin Laden be buried at sea. Again, this isn't the norm, but it's appropriate under Islamic Law because of the reasons stated.

      I hope that helps!

      May 3, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • sweetness

      despite that bin Laden is already disposed in sea; you still wana know much about shariah? According to Imam he supported himself with the three points as his arguement..reread! Dont just call people wrecked. And am sorry to say, his disposal might affect you too coz if he really is captured and killed and burried at sea for he will be the fishes food.. bin Laden will be in your blood!!! Request Imam to write your seperate Article. I am a Muslim and bin Laden has affected everyone in one way or the other but still we dont have to talk ill.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  20. NY State Girl


    May 3, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • Joe

      What they should have done is buried him in an easily accessible area, park a couple snipers nearby and take out anyone who visits the grave. Use the enemy as bait...

      May 3, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • pockets

      Picture his body upright, swaying in the ocean depths, soon to be food for fish. His weighted body, standing in the darkness of the ocean depths. Picture that isolation, this is the end of a former employee of the US government, who was paid to wreck havoc on the Russians in Afghanistan, but turned on his employer. Let that be a warning to all who are employed in such endeavours.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:16 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.