May 2nd, 2011
08:49 AM ET

My Take: Burying bin Laden at sea an elegant solution

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

As I watched news reports of the death of Osama bin Laden late Sunday night and into the morning, I worried about one thing: What would be done with his body?

One of the perverse promises of Islamic terrorism is that it can transform ordinary people into martyrs for Allah. So I did not want to see bin Laden’s burial place turned into an Al Qaeda Mecca — a pilgrimage site for Muslim extremists and an assembly line for martyrs to come.

Now comes word that the mastermind behind Al Qaeda has been buried at sea.

U.S. officials said early this morning that bin Laden’s body had been treated in “accordance with Islamic practice.” Islamic practice, however, calls for corpses to be buried as quickly as possible — ideally within hours.  And it forbids cremation.

The United States needed some time, of course, to make the case that the corpse they were holding was, in fact, that of bin Laden — to perform an autopsy, perhaps, and to take photos and perhaps videos to show to the world.

'No land alternative' prompts bin Laden sea burial

Yet it needed to do all this quickly and in a manner that did not turn the Al Qaeda leader into more of a martyr than he has already become.

Burial at sea is an elegant solution to this problem. It is permissible under Islamic law, and it does not provide any one location that followers can turn into a shrine to global terrorism.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: 9/11 • Death • Islam • Opinion • Osama bin Laden • Pakistan

soundoff (499 Responses)
  1. Robert Johnson

    Bin Laden got more respect than he deserved and much more than he gave his victims. I wouldn't have been the least bit upset if he were chopped up and sent to Iowa as hog chow.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  2. Billy Peeler

    So now he's at the bottom of the ocean with a catfish living in his belly. Good place for him.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  3. Dave

    I agree with the author of the article. This was a very smart solution to the problem of what to do with bin Laden's body. Even though bin Laden did not represent true Muslims, he still claimed Islam as his religion. This solution allowed the U.S. to respect the religion as much as possible without creating a martyr or allowing a rallying point or shrine for radicals. A perfect solution to the question of what to do with his body.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  4. Fred L Schmilden

    I guess so. I am not sure how this particular page works.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  5. Fred L Schmilden

    Disposal of evidence.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  6. EdieRose

    Elegant burial..... Or Shark bait? I wonder if there are any pictures of him before they wrapped his body. This monsters death was too quick and painless...he should have suffered like the ones he killed in the 911 massacre. I understand to make the public happy is is necessary to tell lies but some of us know the "real truth". I need more proof of bin ladens death just like more proof of hitler's "so called suicide". Something to ponder for years to come

    May 3, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • Morganas

      We're gonna need a bigger boat.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  7. Real News

    The main reason why was he buried at sea was that No nation would want the father of terrorism on their soils. This is the main reason why US buried him at sea. We should also look at other issues as well if he was buried somewhere in afghanistan then that place would become the pilgrimage for terrorist. Its in the best interest of everyone that he was buried at sea. GOOD RIDDANCE !

    May 3, 2011 at 12:47 am |
    • Morganas

      I believe I heard Afgananstan was offere hos body, but they refused, like you said, no one would want his body on their soil. I guess his family didnt want him either.

      May 3, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  8. kaillo

    Why this SOB deserves a burial according to muslim's traditions? A lot of the 9/11 victims did not a chance for a proper burial. funny, "cremation" is unaceptable for them but this ashole is burning in hell. I call that poetic justice

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

    Bin Laden is dead but unfortunately Islam, his religion and operating manual, is not but there is a quick cure:

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:----------

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls – Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism at your request.

    May 3, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  10. JB

    "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

    May 2, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  11. Truthseeker

    “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but i will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." -martin luther king, jr.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • truthseeker is right

      YES! Thank you, truthseeker. I was with friends when the news broke, and I was not cheering as they were. I was neither happy nor sad...but I paused to consider the cycle of violence in which we have been caught up. That the death of anyone can be considered a cause for unity in this polarized nation is disappointing. Can we attempt to rally together to promote the cause of JUSTICE – education, the wellbeing of families...all those things that promote the inherent worth of all people.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  12. clarke

    It was done the right way. Justice has been done. Bid Laden was just the tip of the ice berg. He has been a teacher to many and they will not go away. Our Government knows that, but we will never give up our freedom to the likes of them.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  13. Aaron

    He should have been treating like all of the people he killed without any respect and dumped like trash.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  14. Victor

    Ask yourself this question: I you are in charge of all this, wouldn't you want the seals to capture him alive or dead ? It is very easy to capture him without having to shoot the real bullet, remember that. It's BS to say that we respect him and the Arab world. People in this world is so easy to be manipulated and that's why ther are so many governments, parties, religions .....ect.

    May 2, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  15. Jaguss

    The photo of dead Osama bin Ladin could be seen on http://tribune.com.ng/index.php

    May 2, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • BioHzrd

      I hate to say it but that's a poor photoshopped version that has already been exposed as a fake.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  16. realguy

    your an idiot it wasnt elegant it was cover up

    May 2, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • clarke

      prove it, you just can't say it.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  17. USA

    He should have been wrapped in pigskin first.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  18. Pooky

    he actually deserved LESS than that.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  19. Joe

    I think it was awfully convenient to 'bury' the body so quickly, and in such a way as to prevent anyone even verifying it was Osama at all. It smells very fishy, what is the U.S. Government trying to hide?

    May 2, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Nibiru

      They're trying to hide the fact that he's been dead for 9 years.Think about it, when's the last time you heard from him? And he's hiding in plane sight? BS! He died in Tora Bora from liver disease, and in an unmarked grave. The news is hilarious, if you new the truth.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • AdHominus

      They did a computer facial recognition test, it came up as positive.
      They did a genetic analysis test, it came up as Osama.
      Also @Nibiru... Osama has made plenty of videos since his liver disease.
      Also how do you know Osama died some time ago? Ridiculous.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • Schmedly

      They wouldn't have Obama annouce this on global TV unless they were really sure they had him. If he showed up later, that would cause way to much political damage and discredit to the administration and the US. There is no way they would take that risk.

      What I am debating is if he is really dead or they just want everyone to think he's dead so they can waterboard him 'til the cows come home.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  20. Joe Boy

    It's a lie that he was given a watery grave!! The USA has his body. The USA has too many scientist that would want his remains to have dumped it at sea. What's the best way to end the requests to see it other than to give a reason up front why you can't get it.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • bhp

      Why would a scientist want his remains?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Matt

      This makes absolutely no sense. What possible scientific use could Osama Bin Laden's body (specifically his body and no other) serve?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • krok

      they might have his brain

      May 2, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Ron-FL

      Bin Laden is fish food. Sorry.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • john

      wheres the pictures? what are they waiting for? hes dead and gone and still no picture. they showed us husseins sons and they couldnt stuff them fast enough. whats going on?

      May 3, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • wompas

      hahaha for real.. Why would any scientist want his body? What kind of twisted view of science do you have? Maybe scientists of the 1930s-50s.. You probably believe the "scientists" have a stargate too right?

      May 3, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • BioHzrd

      I'm a scientist and I could give a crap about his remains

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

      Quick someone grab osama's body before those pesky entomologists get it!

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

      Heh, my theory is that they want everyone to think he's dead so they can avoid the media and legal circus that would explode if people knew he was taken alive. Dead men have no rights, so to the rest of the world he's dead and life goes on.

      In the meantime, take OBL to some secret safe house on an island in the Indian Ocean and waterboard the cr*p out of him. You get OBL and you just whack him and dump him? C'mon, that's like catching the head of the Gambino crime family and just whacking him. You know he has a lot of info that's too valuable to just throw away.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • wompas

      Sorry that's a pretty terrible theory brah what would be the point? Common sense tells any rational human that bin laden would have never surrendered peacefully he has fought constantly since he went there to fight the soviets. He left a comfortable life being a billionaire to go fight soviets what about a person like that makes you think he wouldn't go out in a hail of gunfire.. Drug dealers and bank robbers do it all the time here. He would have been no use to the US government alive they would have just sent him off to a trial and he'd end up hanged along with sadam hussein. They will most likely release his picture and video of the raid sometime in the near future. The pic floating around right now has been on the internet for the past couple years I've seen it a lot. It's a really poorly done photoshop and the conspiracy nuts are already starting to use that picture as proof of a coverup. It's hilarious.

      May 3, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • Morganas

      Wompas...Who or what is a Brah?

      May 3, 2011 at 1:09 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.