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. Doug

    His death is only a symbolic win for America. We spent an insane amount of money chasing this loser, lost thousands of young men and women at war, thrown our economy in a tailspin and that doesn't even cover 9/11 itself. I'm glad he's gone, but this certainly isn't a "victory" by any stretch of an intelligent imagination. The entire thing turns into an epic fail moment when you think of how much won't change now that he's dead.

    The good thing is, Donald Trump will find a way to take credit for this and we get to watch his joke of a life unravel some more. I wish only the best of diseases for the Don.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Well, for one the Iraq war had nothing to do with Osama. And Afghanistan for the most part had little to directly with him after the initial attack. And a symbolic victory in this kind of war is a real victory. Symbolism drives many of the extremists.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  2. Stymie

    Burial at sea was too good for him. I would have fed his dead body to the Lions.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Larry

      The Lions have some really big people on their defensive line, but I don't think they'd eat a waterlogged bin laden.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  3. Jacqueline13

    ...and who's to say he wasn't cremated and dumped in the sea? Nobody could prove it either way. I hope so.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  4. Terry

    Buried at sea, my ass. Kicked out of a helicopter from 2500' up is more like it.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  5. Jack

    The Italians p_ssed on Mouselini's corpse. They should have let the Pakistani's do the same thing.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  6. Bill Mosby

    When I heard "..in the Islamic tradition..", I at first thought that meant they would have to go to the trouble of beheading him, burning the body, and hanging it under a bridge or something. Then I realized that they meant in the tradition reserved for Muslims, not for their enemies, lol.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  7. WaitWhat

    Why not bury and let it turn into a mecca for terrorists – but also plant a 5 radius of land minds around his grave. 🙂

    May 2, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  8. chuck

    All the nice fishies of the sea are pecking at his eyes now 🙂 and the crabs are tearing at his face 🙂 Osama is FISH FOOD!!!!

    May 2, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  9. sonny chapman

    Now can we get out of Afghanistan ?

    May 2, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • Jeff

      Thank you sonny for reminding us how Obama's followers preferred we cut and run instead of complete the mission.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  10. Diane Capretta

    We could get all of them... Let all his buddies and Al Qaeda know where he was dropped (buried), let them all go out their in the middle of the ocean and have a big cry...then the U.S. can have a little target practice and they can all join him.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  11. Regnad Kcin

    Good heavens, the conspiracy nutters are out in force today.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  12. Leo

    Why pollute the beautiful sea, throw into an active volcano.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • IonOtter

      No, not a volcano! If they did that, Osama would become a Thetan, and would travel to Xenu's secret cave and disarm the eternal battery holding him prisoner. And then all the Scientologists would DIE! *blink-blink* Y'know, on second thought...

      May 2, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  13. Bob

    I think they should have brought bin laden back to the US and put him on display for the world to see. Even bin laden didn't really follow his own religion, he bent to rules to meet his own needs. So why were we so intent on making sure we followed Islamic burial rights??? Maybe they could have put him on tour with American idol show!! lol

    May 2, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Maybe it was better to simply erase this b@stard and reduce his value as a martyr. By technically following Muslim tradition it removes a flashpoint for extremists to exploit.
      The conspiracy theorists will have their fun no matter what anyway.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  14. ZOG

    Hey, Duece Bag, it's small, cynical minds such as yours that are poisoning our democratic landscape. Why don't you just come out and say "I hate Obama" instead of putting your own ugly spin on anything he does? Then we can all better undertand where you and yours are coming from.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  15. Dave

    Echo – Bush had his shot and let him go to continue his un-necessary war in Iran.Obama had the guts to end it.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Chase

      I wasn't aware we were in a war with Iran... this is big news!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • John

      What in the world are you smoking? Congrats to our military. Thank God there are men and women like you!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Prep4theworst

      umm Dave it was Iraq not Iran.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  16. demogal

    I definitely agree with this opinion. Respect the Islamic religion, but do not give the extremists among them a shrine to terror.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  17. Alain

    Some people will ask "Where is the death certificate?"

    May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • KSA

      hahaha.. what a great comment!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  18. Chris

    Its kind of odd how now that its almost time to start an election campaign, they find him and kill him with no casualties in the episode. good job obama.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • demogal

      Oh, please. Ridiculous conspiracy theories get more nutty by the day!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Ok, Let's start counting conspiracy theories.


      Should be several hundred by the end of the day.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:12 am |

      What conspiracy did you find in your breakfast this morning?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Larry

      It's always during an election cycle, moron. Can't you republicans ever give credit to anyone else?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • MEENA

      I agree with Chris. Such a huge achievement, without photoes/videos of body. So hurry that he was buried at sea within 24 hours. Everything is looking a well scripted drama...

      May 2, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Ed

      I've seen 4 or 5 conspiracys already

      May 2, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      Chris – this is the President – I've trying to get hold of you all week to find out when you wanted me to kill Osama – Sorry if the timing inconveniences you. Barack

      May 2, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Ed

      @Meena the shot after the fire fight according one article I read, execution style. You photogragh that its evidence of murder. Had he been shot in the fight we might have photos but execution style no photos plausible deniability

      May 2, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  19. james miller, seymour,TX

    Why not cremate him ?????? Americans as well as Muslims died by fire on 9/11 in the twin towers !!!!! His body should have been cremated first -- THEN buried at sea. Oh well, he`s burning now.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  20. Joe

    I'm glad they got him but I don't see the point of this article. If terrorists would have turned his burial ground into somekind of shrine it would go against everything they believe in. These are extreme salfi people who absolutely hate the morning or monuments at a grave. So they should have buried him, because if that would have been the case then these people could no longer call themselves Muslims because of that.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      well they can hardly do it now so why would they care?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • joy

      Seriously? We're not talking about ethical or logical people here.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:14 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.