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. Gyps

    The decision to dump him into the sea is a bit too convenient and pat a solution. Reserving judgment though. But just think what a wonderful tool for tracking terrorists and creating a watch list a shrine would have been. *Rolling eyes.

    May 3, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  2. Glenn

    I think he should have been cremated just like there people of 9/11.

    May 3, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  3. LAB

    Anger truly belongs with our government for being so naive that we couldn't be attacked in the first place. September 11, 2001 should have been our wake-up call. You can't kill bin Laden. Oh, yes, his body can be removed from the face of this earth, but his ideology will remain pervasive. It has so tentacled throughout the world that it may not be extinguished. This ideology was successful in bringing down an already-teetering US economy and placing fear among the American people. His ideology was successful in forcing Americans to cede some of their rights in the name of safety. Just because he is dead doesn't mean that you won't have to stop taking off your shoes at airports. Just because he is dead doesn't mean that the Patriot Act will be repealed. Just because he's dead doesn't mean that the US and Canada will resume free passage between the two peaceful nations without display of passport. Celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden is symbolic, but it gives this person credibility in a way he does not deserve. It will be how the world reacts to his death that elevates him to the status of martyr for his cause. Don;t give him that martyrdom.

    May 3, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  4. ScottJoh

    Bi Laden had noting to do with 9/11 – Our govt did it! They wanted start a war with no end so the central banks and Mil contractors could profit for years! 10 years so far in this war! The evidence is in the news reels from the media outlets – The suppressed reports. Watch 9/11:Loose change from netflix- It's an instant play movie. or write me. talonxx9@hotmail.com for more info

    May 3, 2011 at 7:53 am |
  5. ScottJoh

    I still do not believe any of this. The govt created a fake scapegoat in bin Laden to cover a fake war. Our govt caused the WTC incident. THEY needed an excuse to start a war. They lied to us about that they lied to us about WMD's and who know if Bin Laden was alive, dead or is still alive now! This entire war is a sham! Our govt is the evil that thee American public is tricked into looking the other way in the name of patriotism! You are FOOLS america!

    May 3, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  6. Azixero

    Fyi muslims are burried in lands not the sea. Just to correct

    May 3, 2011 at 7:22 am |
  7. Wesley Moore

    Someone wrote a no-nonsense comment so good, I had to repost it myself.


    "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."
    – G.W. Bush, 3/13/02

    Bush's priority was Iraq, not finding the man behind 9/11. He had eight years to complete the mission, but lost interest in a year. Now, Obama gives the order to kill Bin Laden, and you want to give Bush credit?!? I don't get it.

    May 2, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    May 3, 2011 at 6:00 am |
  8. Alex B-P

    I'm glad he's over with.

    May 3, 2011 at 5:00 am |
  9. Proof needed

    I need proof so as to not eat cake and dance on the American Governments word.

    It means nothing no body / evidence = no kill

    May 3, 2011 at 4:37 am |
  10. Kurt47

    So we now know that the Navy wrapped OBL in a sheet, said a prayer and slid him off a board from a big aircraft carrier about 14 stories above the water. That's more courteous than an air drop? Did they afford him the courtesy of the traditional weighted canvas bag or just knot the sheet at both ends and slide him off like a sausage? Did the ship stop when they did it or did they throttle it out to suck the bag through the propellers? Did they toss his blood overboard along with the body to let the other sharks know he was on his way? These are very important questions that enquiring minds must know. I hope someone has the answers.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:24 am |
  11. jw

    I still don't understand why there has been no real evidence that it was indeed Bin Laden. If they took the measures of risking american lives to go in there and capture his body what are they waiting for? Doesn't make any sense. Obama called off a bombing months ago so they could prove it was Bin Laden by capturing his body now why is there hesitation in "actually" confirming it. There was no problem with showing Saddam and his death. Why would there be any problem with showing and proving Bin Laden in dead. Everything I have heard only contributes to people dis-believing that they killed him. If they actually had proper intelligence and had a live feed of the operation, have pictures of the body, have video of the burial, and apparently other proof what is the hold up. Everything is very fishy to not only myself but millions of other people. I'm not looking into this as a conspiracy theorist but it just doesn't make sense. If you did what you say you did give the entire world the proof. Tons of people say that we did everything perfectly so they don't need to prove it. Well if it was perfect than they would have excellent proof. Don't believe anything until it is proven to you is all I am saying. Come on Obama prove it to the world. I'm calling shinanigans on you until proof is actually put out by our government and our armed forces.

    May 3, 2011 at 4:22 am |
  12. Blah! Blah! Blah!

    Go back to sleep, America! Your government has everything under control! Watch more WWF, America, and sleep safe in your beds tonight. For your government HAS EVERYTHING UNDER CONTROL! Ignorance truly is bliss! Poor naive little sheep!

    May 3, 2011 at 3:20 am |
  13. delaxo

    "Elegant solution"?
    Indeed, it is as elegant as mad dogs throwing their hated pray to the sharks.
    The blah-blah on "elegant solutions" is just an effort to cover cruel revenge with a fig leaf of rationale.
    A good example of decency -the American way...

    May 3, 2011 at 3:08 am |
  14. Richard Ryan

    The only good Yank is a dead Yank!

    May 3, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • George Washington

      Aw... still upset that you lost "the colonies."

      May 3, 2011 at 4:35 am |
  15. R Burns

    I agree completely that this method of "burial" was brilliant. It satisfies Islamic traditions and at the same time provides no opportunity for anyone to exploit Bin Laden's body in any way, as a martyr or a villain. For those several people who asked, on air, whether the US had the advice of Muslim religious heads: there are Muslim chaplains aboard with all military groups just as there are Protestant and Catholic ministers, Jewish rabbis, etc. I'm sure the military didn't have to look far to find how to handle Bin Laden's body and to have the appropriate Muslim spiritual leaders present for the burial. We got this one completely right.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  16. Sir Cecil

    Incredible that so many worthless people were doing their best to distract the President from his outstanding work, by wasting everyone's time with their "birther" rubbish. Here was a President organizing one of America's finest operations, while traitorous imbeciles tried their hardest to ridicule him with lies. Were you one of them? If so, America gives you the finger.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:48 am |
    • Jain

      Sir Cecil, you are a perfect specimen of what the Oil-Media-Military-Congress has been trying since the 1980s, to turn all Americans, and indeed the whole world, into – Gullible numbnuts who are happy with insignificant happenings in their lives, so long as they dont interfere with the decisions taken by a few that actually impact humanity.

      May 3, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  17. Tango216

    Hitler's tomb is under a cement-paved parking lot in Berlin.

    They did it that way, so as not to have any Neo-Nazi Hitler-admirers flocking to his grave to worship him.

    The same reason bin Laden was buried at sea.

    To avoid hoards of his followers congregatiing at a shrine.

    May 3, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  18. Victor

    OK, even if it is soooo lame true that he is buried at sea then I think the Obama administration is doing a terrible job regarding the outcome of this whole thing ...... They're supposed to release the American pressue and let the families of those 3000 people who were killed at the towers live in peace, not to start creating a new fricken doubt in everyone's mind. This whole thing should be to fight and put down the terrorists so that American people can live in peace, not doubts !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm sorry to say, but we need a new administration bad !

    May 3, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • JS

      Because dragging a bloody corpse through the capital would have been preferable? There will always be doubters. Even if they paraded the body through the country or put it on display at the smithsonian there would be people that claimed that it was another body made to look like Bin Laden and that only they had evidence of some characteristic that the CIA didn't or wanted to cover up. Sure the burial at sea was guaranteed to generate fodder for the conspiracy crowd, but truly there was nothing for Obama to gain in the long run if he faked this one. All it would take is a video of Bin Laden holding next week's New York TImes and he would look like a fool. In this day and age, no president would take that risk

      May 3, 2011 at 1:32 am |
    • Jill

      Perhaps we should have covered him in tar and lashed him to pilings at the mouth of the Thames River like the pirates of old? Would that better suit you?

      May 3, 2011 at 1:43 am |
  19. Shashank Phathak

    We, bloody, never bloody learn from his,fkin,tory. Has any body hear of Haji Ali in Mumbai?

    May 3, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • Shashank Phathak

      Not that I believe the sea burial thing. But I am sure his corpse will really be buried under the new towers where the twin towers one stood.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  20. Superpecs

    Well gee there's shocker a blog on CNN that agrees with this government. I love how OSB was the architect of 911 yet there is no specific mention of it on the FBI website in his top ten most wanted profile. I love how how Obama's BC was forensically proven to be a fraud then a few days later he kills the most wanted terrorist who has been dead for years. Yes people he was on dialysis years back in an American run hospital mind you. He was a boogie man for all of us to hate, like the Commie Russians in the 80's. See to justify war you need a boogie man and Osama was it, despite being buddies with the Bushes and making millions along side them. Funny how things work. Now go back to watching Amazing Race you mindless gullible troglodytes.

    May 3, 2011 at 1:09 am |
    • JS

      Quick...there's a grassy knoll and a convertible...better run and check it out!

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

      Bushes weren't making money alongside him when he was a mastermind terrorist and after his actions. You don't know, how do you know were you there...all speculation buddy. There are no opponents–just you

      May 3, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • mature person

      What was proven to be a fraud was the forged birth certificate that some crazy birther had produced , crafted to show a birth in a foreign country. Trouble was, it was someone ELSE's birth certificate forged to look like it was for Obama . Some people are so anxious to believe the birther conspiracy theory , so gullible in their hatred that they can overlook reality and put aside common sense.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • Intelligence

      You sir, are a dumbs#hit.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:30 am |

      Superpecs-YOUR ABSOLUTELY CORRECT, much easier to be blissfully ignorant while the elite rob you blind, pay no taxes, carry on false flag operations, and you merrily go on your way, jumping off the cliff into oblivion. Face Facts, no body, no evidence, standard criminal procedure. All it takes is an ounce of intelligence to examine evidence.

      May 3, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • j cecil smith

      show the body, dead or alive only counts with a body, and it has to be proved fresh, this event is likely fake, but osama is dead. the birth certificate issue was pushed to hide something else and to promote trump and dis the rest. then to quickly roast trump hard, oh, and then nab the most wanted terrorist. it's been a great week starting with the wedding, and until today.. and the world will believe it when we see a 54 year old osama bin laden's body. with all due respect, the govt has made so many errors, the standard of proof needs to be met but letting the public wonder may be part of the strategy, especially given the gory nature – i think it's quite possible he was passed away years ago, bad govt starts two wars before finishing one.. letting the whole thing slip through fingers, getting our troops pinned down in long chess game, played queen first move, bush did.

      May 3, 2011 at 4:07 am |
    • Gumby

      Nice tinfoil hat, gomer.

      May 3, 2011 at 6:42 am |
    • Derek

      Feel better?

      May 3, 2011 at 8:21 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.