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. Luke

    Remember Bin Ladens smerk when he was told the twin towers were gone! Don't forget, the war isn't OVER!

    May 3, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • bailoutsos

      ebay newspaper auction la times

      Osama Bin Laden – 2001– muslim - Bush - Obama nation

      May 3, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  2. Luke

    We do not reconize sharia law, yet there are those trying to get it into our country. Why show this terroist any respect, he did not respect our 3,000 lost in NYC. I am wondering if cremation wouldn't have been a better choice. Anyway they lost a leader, we lost an enemy.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Lisa

      I totally agree. He should've been cremated. To honor Osama's Islamic beliefs should be an offense to every Muslim out there.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Alyssa

      It was not a show of respect to Bin Laden. It was a show of respect to Islam. Enormous difference.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  3. Josh

    The body should have been returned to Washington. Striped naked, castrated, and hung upside down in front of the Whitehouse. Even that, would show more compassion than this infidel deserved.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Alyssa

      Maybe you want to live in a barbaric society, but I don't. He's dead. That's enough.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  4. Lisa

    Great article. However, Mr. Latif, help me to understand how your statement can be applied to all the division and strife the building of the World Trade Center Mosque has caused in NYC and all over America...."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."

    May 3, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  5. corrina

    Osama B Laden swims with the fishes....

    May 3, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  6. Ronald Hussein Reagan

    the means of disposal showed intelligence more than compassion, I'd say.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  7. Not drinking the kool aid

    You're an idiot!

    May 3, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  8. Jay

    people must understand that only certain information can be told to the people through the media. leaking every single detail of the events that unfolded is dangerous. There are probably some "false cover stories" so he may or may not be buried at sea. just have faith it was done and mission was accomplished.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  9. chuck

    people are idiots, they make such a whoopla about 9-11. move on, it was a bad thing to happen, but like someone else posted, it was a one day event,.....move on.... the world wars lasted how long?????? The only reason people make such a big deal about 9-11 is that it was the first time in history that brought something like this to our soil here at home and people were to weak in the mind to deal with it and it shattered their glass houses they live in. If this would of happened to a building owned by the U.S. in another country, people wouldn't think twice about it, they would just think oh well, it's unsafe outside our borders those are the kind of things that happen. But on our own soil, people are like oh my god how can this happen.....woooooooo!! Get over it people and move on 9-11 is nothing more than just another bad event in the world mankind has made. Saddle up and move on!!!!

    May 3, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  10. Lisa

    I just don't understand why a Muslim would even refer to Osama as a brother in the Muslim religion. Osama called himself a Muslim but his actions all reflected supposedly not what a Muslim believes or practices. Osama's Muslim beliefs were distorted and deceived. If I were a Muslim, I would make it very clear that Osama is not what a true Muslim is like. I would be offended to think that he would share my Islamic religion. He was a terrorist and a murderer. Therefore, to honor his burial with Islamic traditions would be an offense to any true Muslim.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • Alyssa

      Which is why no Muslim nation would take his body. They did not want to honor him with the privilege of being buried on their soil.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  11. Suz C

    Mr. Latif...thank you for the article. Your three points were well taken. Your last paragraph grabbed me "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" You are absolutely right, hate does nothing but breed hate. I don't think we will ever forget, but, to grow, we need to move forward and heal. Thanks again.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  12. dave nelson

    The DNA match was done quite easily. they simply took a little of the blood leaking from the bullet hole, labeled it with his name, took a swab of his mouth, marked it as an unknown donor, then sent it all to las vegas, where it was tested in tv time on the set of CSI, BECAUSE THAT IS THE ONLY PLACE I HAVE EVER HEARD OF A TEST LIKE THAT TAKING LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • rodk

      I love how people with a little knowledge think that fact makes them smarter than every one else.

      Yes, a DNA test could NOT have been done already. No, no one has claimed that it HAS been done, only that samples were taken for testing. Or do you think they need the whole body to be kept in cold storage until the tests are done?

      May 3, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • anamule

      Perhaps you should read a little more carefully. The DNA was not matched to Bin Laden DNA, it was matched to familiy members (I believe it was his sister) which they already had sequenced and filed. The tests to do the matching can take as little as 2 hours. Look it up.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  13. Gary

    The author is correct that the U.S. did not want bin Laden's followers to commemorate his death in any way which is why he was buried at sea. Not only did he need to be killed to avoid a painful trial, but as an Muslim would acknowledge, this truly was a situation of an eye-for-an-eye. Treating his body with respect and in accordance with his religious practices also demonstrates to the world that we are not against Islam. I would hope that our enemies would accord the bodies of our soldiers as much respect. But, even if they wouldn't, we are better than that.

    May 3, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  14. crabman

    his body should have been dragged threw the streets -- thats just me sayn or at least show the body before feeding him to the fish

    May 3, 2011 at 7:05 am |
  15. John

    Osama is dead. Coward to the end. Out of respect for the dead the US goverment buried him at sea. Time to move on. 24 Seals are not lying, the goverment is not lying, the only person lying is the one that can not see the truth in front of them. It's simply over. Osama lived by the gun and died by the gun. He now resides in HELL.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:59 am |
    • Bird

      Well said!

      May 3, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Arcwraith

      Well... according to his religious beliefs.... he is in heaven with 77 virgins.
      This was never a war on terror.... it was a war between extreme muslim beliefs and the rest of the world.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:03 am |
    • Richard T

      Absolutely well said. In any case, the U.S. government already sees the need to divulge proof that this murderer is really dead. Wait and see, we'll be seeing something that will be irreputable quite soon. At this point, we need to make a serious review of what role Pakistan played in keeping OBL safe in his mansion, not far from their equivalent of West Point. It looks like that LIED straightfaced to the United States, and we should make them pay for that dearly in our withdrawal of financial aid. Send it to the unfortunates down South who have lost everything during the tornados.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:07 am |
  16. ummm?

    I just dont understand the urgency with which he was buried. Why the sensitivity towards islamic custom? Given what he did to our country and other countries why would anyone afford him the dignity of a speedy burial?

    May 3, 2011 at 6:56 am |
    • MaryB

      I believe the right decision was made in following Sharia Law. Not for bin Laden, but because we will most assuredly see some form of retribution from his followers. If the Islamic beliefs were not followed concerning his burial, it could be much worse. Better to take the high road. While I will not openly celebrate the death of any living being, I am certainly happy that this one is gone.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • Jan

      Islamic law dictates that a Muslim be buried within 24 hours after death, and unlike him, we respected his religion. He was buried at sea so that people would not have a place to make a shrine for him. America did for him what he did not allow us to do for loved ones after 9/11. We did not even have a body to bury. Whether or not you agree with what was done, the man was a terrorist and killed without thought or regard to others. He was an extremist,a fanatic and in the end, all people who act and think like him meet their doom in what ever way is deemed.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • Zack

      Your right, not many countries would. But thats what sets us apart. America must remain a beacon of freedom and respect. NOTHING good comes from hate... nothing. I'm proud we did the human thing by giving even the most inhuman of us a decent burial.

      Are you blind? Don't you see that hate is what he wanted? I love my country all of it, muslim, agnostic, christian and jew. We are a people of reason and logic and for that I'm proud.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Alyssa

      Because you can respect the religion without respecting the man. It's diplomacy in its highest form. We can't continue thinking that we don't have to come to a peaceful understanding with Muslim nations. We don't have to agree with them on the issues of the day, but we do have to co-exist, and it is better to not poke the beehive with a stick just because we can. There are over a billion Muslims on this planet. We can't run roughshod over their beliefs.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  17. Somfrey

    I dont know if I can express this any clearer. F' compassion.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:46 am |
  18. jeff

    People are too dramatic about 911. It changed our lives forever. No it didn't stop crying. England was carpet bombed every single day for years yet it was "chin up carry on!" Winston chrurchill "....we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be." If our granparents had been as weak and politically correct as you people are now world war 2 would be ending right about.......well not yet. Islam will ask for civil rights now, then when the population grows will demand Islamic law later. Bad news for your granddaughters who will wear burkas, have no rights and get beaten with a stick for even minor offenses.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:24 am |
    • logan

      Why is he an idiot because hes not blindly patriotic and doesn't believe everything he's told by the government that brought you the WMD's and the Iraq War lol?

      May 3, 2011 at 6:45 am |
    • Arcwraith

      We all know the U.S. has Bin'Ladin in custody and are torturing him. I say put him in the Octagon ring with G.W. and see who has the greater resolve. Wanna torture him? Tie him to a post and read "decision Points" to him.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  19. Mohamed

    i strongly feel that the author of this article is not a muslim.
    the US is lying.
    food for thought: how many billions of your money was spent to capture or kill him?
    they couldnt even show you a dead photograph?
    The prophet of islam told us that God has all the hearts of men in his hands and he can turn them to whichever direction He wishes. but i say that all the minds of american people are in the hands of the media and the government. they turn you to which ever direction they want.
    wake up people. Osama is dead, yes that is what i beleive but i also know that he wasnt killed by the americans as they say.
    we all know how each and every american want to take credit for the slightest thing that you do and just to think of killing osama and dumping his body in the sea is just too stupid for a kid to beleive. oh i also forgot, what was the reason why they never showed the picture? oh yes because they want to handle the body in line with islamic culture and tradtions....oh plz stop that. where on earth do you value islamic culture and tradtion? c'mon america i have faith in you, you can do better than that. bring something else plz. for the one whose father was killed by osama, sorry is not gonna mean anything to you but did you know this? i have lost an entire family due to the money you are paying to ur government.

    May 3, 2011 at 6:06 am |
    • logan

      and it takes longer than 12 hours to get a match on a DNA sample, especially when it has to be flown out of Afghanistan to some hospital somewhere in Europe

      May 3, 2011 at 6:44 am |
    • zak

      I for one do not believe the story. I am an American and a teacher. We discussed OBL in class and we discussed how most intelligent people do not believe the story being told to us. It's a shame that there is a disconnect between the people and the government. We were supposed to have created a representative government but the only thing our government represents is greed and corruption. I'm happy for the people that lost loved on 9-11 to finally have some closure but i can't celebrate the killing of a man especially when things are as bad as ever around the world and within our own government.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • dumfounded

      Mohamed: while you are here, please learn English and (or should I say plz?) How exactly does a photograph die?

      May 3, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • ATLEng

      Thank you all for making me proud to be an American yet again. Oh, and I'm sure you won't understand my sarcasm, so I'm informing you of it now.

      And no, it doesn't take that long for a DNA test. Crime labs, etc. just take a long time b/c of the backlog. Bouchedag. We have such a large budget for defense, top notch tech, and you think we can't complete a mission like this........geez, who's dense? For Pete's sake, there's have a friggin' Hadron collider, cutting edge tech nano tech in your friggin' cell phone, and you think the problem is DNA turnaround?

      May 3, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • To the Holier Than Thou Idiot

      @zak: Most intelligent people do not believe the story? Your sources of information please. By "intelligent" do you mean only people who agree with your misguided opinions? From what I'm seeing world wide, most people, regardless of 'intelligence' actually DO believe the story.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Florida27

      Two points:

      Firstly, as someone who did genetic research for 8 years (for the USDA, 3 universities, and a private organization), it doesn't take 12 hours to get a DNA match. It doesn't take long at all, especially if you have access to a good amount of blood. I could extract DNA from 50ml of blood in a matter of minutes. From there, it would take an hour or less to match to almost complete certainty.

      Secondly, news outlets have stated that bin Laden was shot in the head. In modern US building breaches, teams use a combination of M-16s and SAWs (Standard Automatic Weapons), which replaced the M-60 machine gun. M-60s were often demonstrated to new soldiers in boot camp by firing them several feet away from a watermelon... and the pressure drop caused by the round would cause the watermelon to explode. The fact that this man was shot in the head (and probably not only once, since they're fully-automatic weapons) by either an M-16 or a SAW means that there probably wasn't enough left of his head to show pictures of. Has anyone here ever seen a victim of a gunshot wound to the head? Imagine that on a much larger scale. At least half of the man's head was probably gone.

      I am comforted that Al Qaeda leaders in the middle east have publicly stated that they "contacted brothers in Pakistan" and confirmed the death of bin Laden, (calling the loss a "catastrophe"). Thus, I am confident that we assassinated him as reported.

      Well-written article, sir.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • Jan

      Mohamed, we value our beliefs just as much as you do. We are not stupid nor are we an unkind people. Neither are we cynics. We believe our government until we see that we can't. Then at election time, we let them know how we feel.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • Arcwraith

      First rule of assasination: Never shoot the target in the head. If you can't identify the target you don't get paid.

      The U.S. planted a body and have Binladin in custody. They are torturing him for information and since no one knows he' in U.S. dy they can do whatever they want, waterboarding, pulling nails, breaking bones, sodomy, etc. No one will question it because they DO have his blood and I am sure they pulled some of his teeth for dental identification.

      But hey, in the end, whatever happens to him he brought upon hisself... all religious zealots should be tortured and assasinated... like Tea Baggers, as they do nothing but plunge the world into chaos.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • zak

      It's called common sense. Most people i've talked to do not believe the governments story. How can anyone fully trust our government that has led us into this position in the first place. I'm not sure where you are getting your information from but most Americans do not fully trust their government. It is blind patriotism that is just as dangerous as radical Islam.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  20. teresa spermazota

    Best of luck in your new location

    May 3, 2011 at 5:50 am |
    • I'm OK with assassinating this terrorist....as long as...

      Look - I'm TOTALLY OK with assassinating (aka murder") this terrorist....just as long as we didn't water board any other terrorist to get information about his whereabouts. See how the Liberal mind works? Scary, isn't it?

      May 3, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • ATLEng

      Thank you all for making me proud to be an American yet again. Oh, and I'm sure you won't understand my sarcasm, so I'm informing you of it now.

      May 3, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • Rico53

      I think the real reason for this is obvious , we could not let anyone recover the body and make his grave a shrine to use to recruit others.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:08 am |
    • ATLEng


      I'm guessing you blindly trust your cellphone provider and Apple to keep not track you either. Why is it, that when the government is involved, no one trusts them. But, when a private company keeps your data, it's no big deal? Conservatives need a lesson in logic.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:54 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.