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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. re

    I believe us government and Obama set up bin laden death.bec Obama wants America ppl vote him.I won't vote because us government and president Obama lied American ppl and world.bin laden death picture are fake! World believe it.sad for their brain are wash..I grew up in America.I studied America history .I found out America govt and presidents lied everything stories.I know everything are secret.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  2. Mary

    The USA should not be responsible for disposing of his body. They should have given it back to one of his "WIVES" or the Pakistan Government to pay for it.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  3. RichP, easton, pa

    Sorry to disagree with you but I have no problem with putting muslim 'tradition' on the back burner and if you don't like it that's tough, heck, we didn't leave a single intact church steeple in Europe in WWII because they were used by enemy artillery spotters and snipers, why should muslims get a pass, Tradition did not stop muslims from dragging dead US soldiers through Mogadishu nor did it stop them from hanging contractors from under bridges, Osama's body should have been brought back and put on display is a glass box at all three of his sites, allowing those who wanted to view him ample time to do so. That they dumped him at sea, sorry, retired military and I've seen the BS that gets pulled and this decision stinks to high heaven. Though it was just stupid enough by this current administration to make based on all the other ones they have made to be true. Makes me wonder if it was not tailored by the administration to keep the conspiracy nuts busy and out of trouble.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  4. bailoutsos

    ebay newspapers auction

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

    May 3, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  5. Carla

    I'm glad he is finally dead and kudos to our soldiers who finally got the job done. However, I do not understand why the US was so quick to bury him (according to his Muslim religion) when he and his thugs have murdered so many innocent people. Why pollute the sea with this evil man's body? They should have let him lay in the desert to rot and be picked away by vulchers.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  6. liza

    Very well written article. The fact is that bin laden was more hated than revered by any group, including muslims. I'm glad his body was dumped at sea – or buried or whatever. Good riddance.

    The only point I take a little umbrage with is saying that Sunday was the only time people had come together at ground zero despite their differences. When George Bush stood at ground zero in the days after 9/11 and spoke, we all came together then as a country. I'm glad we can come together again.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  7. Harold

    to all –

    Bin Laden was buried at sea for 2 reasons which I can think of. 1) Very few countries in the world would have accepted his body for burial. 2) If he had been buried on land, even in some undisclosed location in an unmarked grave, somebody would have eventually discovered the grave, or claim to have discovered the grave. That would certainly have given his followers the opportunity to memorilaize him.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • d

      Thanks for posting two of the points from the article as a comment on the article.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  8. Nutan Patel

    I applaud Khalid Latif's comment, I hope that we as humanity wil be able to rebuid our relationships with each other.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  9. Bobby

    It is not so much the personality, but the consciousness he represented.. " The Love of Power and Wealth. And how he used deception and lies of religion tto cover up his plan of world domination.. He is just one of the many world leaders who buy into this philosophy of Gross materialism..

    May 3, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  10. Cyndie

    Wow. I cannot believe the people who would have us drop to the lowest common denominator and treat Bin Laden's body the way the bodies of some of our fallen have been treated. Aren't we supposed to be better than that? Don't we consider those who behave in such a barbaric fashion to be animals? Why would anyone consider stooping to that level of behavior? It wasn't about respect for his body. If we had all that much respect for his body we wouldn't have killed it in the first place. It was about respect for a religion, a religion that millions of non-followers of Bin Laden practice. The fact that he proclaimed himself a Muslim (and a twisted Muslim at best) doesn't mean we must act with a total lack of respect for the entire population who follow the teachings of that religion. Come on people! Let's grow up a little and think through what we're writing. This instant hatred of an entire population because one member of that population has lost his mind has got to stop. Let's not continue this mindless hatred of that which we don't know. Let's put the time and energy into learning about that which frightens us. Bin Laden is dead. He'll hurt no one again. There may be somebody who comes forth and professes to carry on in his name, but he'll be a small somebody and it won't work, and he'll fade away. Al Qaeda has lost its leader, its driving force. It will become less feared and thought of like our own KKK, a sad and pitiful little society who tries to be something but fails and garners only scorn for its very existence and disbelief that anyone actually wants to belong to such a society. These kinds of groups have existed for as long as men of like minds have grouped together. Recognize them for what they now are, a small and meaningless society. The Taliban keeps trying to be thought of as 'somebody', the same with the KKK and now with Al Qaeda. I, for one, will sleep comfortably knowing that my country has killed this man and that in the aftermath they (the guys actually there) did nothing for which I need to be embarrassed on their behalf.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  11. annaliesa

    Your comments were very well put and helped to clarify the positon of disposing of the body. Thank you.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  12. Tuffcookie

    I agree with the burial at sea. I think a lot of people are confusing justice for revenge. If we let revenge cloud our decisions we are no better off than the terrorists.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  13. ethicalperson

    you want to know why we treated the body with respect, because thats what separate us from the animals. were not some dogs that when one die, we sniff and eat the body. there is no law in most arab countries and if they kill a us solider, they want to mutilate the body in all different ways. thats not the U.S.. were not stoop down to there level.. i dont see people leaving the U.S. to live in iraq or afghanistan or iran . we are the modern country others want to be..that what makes us human and not animals

    May 3, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  14. asz

    A burial at sea hides evidence.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • Puncastle

      Exactly, and that's the real reason.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  15. AL

    He drives around in Manhattan? Blasphemy!

    May 3, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  16. Kvivian

    Have a quick question – could they not have brought him back here and like an execution the families of the victims choose to watch him be cremated?

    I am not trying to be disrespectful – just asking a simple question.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • Cyndie

      As I understand it, Muslims don't allow cremation.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Puncastle

      No, Kvivian, that would not have been possible as the real Osama Bin Laden died in 2001 or 2002.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • KC

      I would think that the US would not want his body on US soil. His followers are still around and would try anything to get possession of his body, let alone the people who would want to desecrate the body. brining his body here would have been a security nightmare.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  17. Abraham Medina

    Nero, Hitler, Stalin and among the infamous, the latest–Bin Laden.. What do they have in common? MURDERERS! Before we get too excited-can you have anybody in America who might qualify to be one of them? Who do you think was responsible for the MURDER of almost a million Innocent Iraqis not too long ago? If you can't name him right away, check Google...for reliability use Google to find out a report made public by the Johns Hopkins Universiity Blloomberg School of Public Health about the estimated figures on civilian casualties during the Iraq invasion...Just so you be aware that we too in America have our "Hitler", so publicly paraded in San Francisco, Rome and other places in the world during the height of the Iraqi invasion and make your own conclusion....

    May 3, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • Jim Ray

      Got your bin Laden T-shirt yet? What an @zz.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Vulpes

      How many wars have no civilian casualties ... ?

      May 3, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  18. Sxray04

    Welcome to Davy Jones’ locker (Fish Food)

    May 3, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  19. David M

    I find it disgusting that his body was treated with "respect". How does one of the most ruthless killers of our time deserve any kind of respect that is in keeping with any religious practice? He certainly had no respect for any of us 'infidels'. It would have been more appropriate that he was simply dumped in the sea for the sharks to feed on.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • Jellyfishdude

      I think it's the Christian thing to do. My orthodox church takes care of muslim graves that have been left at the monastery which used to be a mosque.

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

      we're also taught to pray and love our enemies first...I think Jews are also taught that as well.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • Jellyfishdude

      by doing the "eye for an eye" routine, we'd be no better than him. We'd in fact become the evil we hate, which is the temptation I'd be challenged to repent from.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • Jellyfishdude

      i was thoroughly impressed by our demonstration of compassion...but i think it had some other benefits on the side..

      May 3, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • rachel

      we have to show distinction and cannot conduct ourselves like the terrorists.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • Eddie

      We showed respect for ourselves and the living by refusing either to desecrate bin Laden's body or to treat it as only fish food. It's really that simple.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • dixiedawg9

      If it was available, I think the proper disposal method for OBL would be feeding him into a wood chipper and leaving him behind.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Person

      I completely agree. I was actually quite surprised that they went through the trouble of cleaning his body/wrapping it in a sheet according to tradition. I try to imagine anyone showing Hitler's body the same respect, had it ever been found. I would have been perfectly at peace with his body being placed on a street in New York City and letting the citizens deal with it as they see fit. However, we still have so many troops in the middle east, it would have been shortsighted and imprudent to do something outright hostile to his body. I don't think think putting our troops in further danger is worth proving a point.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Beebo

      they should've just strapped some dynamite to the body and disposed of his remains in a manner in which he was apparently a fan.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • AMERICAN EXPAT

      I thought it was against the law to throw trash into the seas?

      May 3, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Baker1

      I think the way we handled his burial speaks to us as a people. (And correct my if I'm wrong, but Hitler committed suicide and then had his remains burned, least he fall into Russian hands.)

      May 3, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • BDog

      I'm pretty sure his "burial at sea" was just his bodybag being tossed out of a Blackhawk as it hovered over the water. Quite certain no one bowed their heads or played taps.....I find comfort knowing he is being eaten by fish right now.

      May 3, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • ScottJoh

      @Jellyfishdude Proof positive the jellyfish do not have brains!

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

      @Everyone above – There is no evidence the Bin Laden is dead! You just have the govt word for it. We do not know if he died where he died, if he's alive or anything for that matter. THE GOVT TOLD YOU and you believe anything they say.. Dolts...

      And if they killed him, drag his body through the streets! DESECRATE THE BODY!

      May 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  20. Patrick

    Some of these comment are TRULY horrifying!.. It seems like its more opinion that fact... and everyone is claiming to know the truth about the situation.. We Americans are so selfish and we are NEVER satisfied with anything... on 9/11 we all came together and acted like we were all so in favor of getting this man... now he dies.. and all we do is talk about how OUR goverment is corrupt... if everything over here is so bad.. then up and go over there.. .I'm sure your view of things would change greatly... show some compassion!.. there are families all over this country that felt some type of closure with his death... they lost loved ones in 9/11 and for the first time in 10 years it actually feels like we got something done!... if the gov't is so bad.. then fight to make it right.. stop complaining on comments! its not changing anything!

    May 3, 2011 at 8:14 am |
    • Vulpes

      @ScottJoh: What time of day was it in 1911 that the US became evil. How about the day of the week? Was it a Monday? 'Cause I have felt for a while that Monday's were evil. It was Monday wasn't it. So glad to hear that the US was all good and moral up to that point. Slavery, percussion of Irish immigrants, and oh, the systematic near-genocide of the American indigenous people I guess were not so bad. Thanks for clearing this up for everyone. Like you, I think evidence, references and common sense are overrated.

      May 3, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • d

      Did you know Hitler was really just Warren Harding in disguise? That's right. He faked his death in 1923 to escape to Germany and started WWII as a secret plot to steal Palestinian land and create Israel.

      May 3, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Xerxes 2010

      @ ScottJoh how can this be fake if 3000 real people died from WTC and Osama claims that he orchestrated the entire thing. Why would a man want to sacrifice himself for a conspiracy? He did it, our gov't did not. So easy to point the finger at them like many other conspritors of gov't involvement. Do you think the gov't is covering up Area 51? Do you think our gov't makes laws for themselves? I am sure if someone broke into your home, you'd be dialing 911 (gov't/feds). Who keeps the insurances companies from price-jacking us?

      May 3, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • ScottJoh

      @Vulpes It was they day when the congress did not stop the creation of the Federal Reserve. The government started it journey to becoming completely corrupted by the Central Banks. The govt had dismantaled the Central bank (under Jackson I believe) but the creation of the Fed meant Americans will forever be in debt, slave if you will to thee banking system. So now the banks control the economy AND the govt must get money from the Fed so the govt has done what ever the bankers want... Like start wars so they can make a bigger profit. STUDY YOUR HISTORY!

      May 3, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • ScottJoh

      @Xerxes 2010 I did not say the WTC didn't kill thousands I said that the Govt caused it. The buildings, whos security wass in the hands of a Bush relative saw to it that the building wass prepared for demolition in secret. Funny now the records of that work are gone.. why because the office of thee security co was in WTC1.

      The WTC tower weere built to withstand multiple impacts by Boeing 737's the biggest airplane around when they were buily and the BUILDERS said that on film years ago. I don't care about area 51. As far as I know it's not destroying anyone or causing fake wars.

      And yes there are people above the law and the govt make laws behind you bakc all the time. Ever hear of the Patriot Act? DUH!

      You jump all over the place. You are terrible at debating.

      May 3, 2011 at 11:54 am |
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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.