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. maria


    May 2, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • MarkinFL

      So, what do YOU believe happened?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Jeff Bertram

      Do you seriously believe the US government, regardless who is in power, would display the dead body?
      and stop shouting.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  2. Cdn Voter

    Since they are down there anyways this week, it might be efficient and poetic to have the Remora deep sea robot dig a hole in the seabed, wrap the terrorist up in that old 'Mission Accomplished" banner, bury him and then cover it up with plane wreckage and some steel from the WTC.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Canadians Allies

      Canadians – vote in the federal election today.
      Bin Laden would have hated that.
      The best way to stand up for democracy and freedom is to exercise the right & privilege to vote.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  3. WIll III

    This guy's theory that his burial at sea is an elegant solution and will not inflame more radicalism is one I can agree with.
    People need to know this war with Al Qaeda. Not Islam or Muslim people as a whole.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Yes, but so many people cannot separate the two and would rather inflame than simply remove a martyr. Dumping him in the ocean for fish food is quite ignominious an end for little desert dwelling dweeb.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  4. John

    We are christians. We have compassion and we forgive and we love unconditionally. May all the dead rest in peace and send us strength and blessings to build a peaceful world.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Darryl

      Pal, he is the last person on the face of the planet who dissevered any compassion or forgiveness from anyone.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  5. Larry

    Let's change his name to bin eaten.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  6. petercha

    A very big THANK YOU to our men and women in the intel and armed forces. And thank you to President Bush for setting it up so we could be in Pakistan to do this.

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

      If Georgie had stayed out of Iraq, this would have happened 9 years ago and Afghanistan wouldn't be crawling with Taliban. Thanks George from diverting our forces from the real front on the war on terror.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Doug

      Hmm.. Thanks Bush for setting it up? Really.
      Its not 24 hours, and some of these guys already want to make this a political gain. You should be ashamed of yourself. And now, dont be going around calling your self a proud and true American. That sir, you are NOT.
      God bless america and god bless the soldiers.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  7. Jeff Bertram

    Members of one absurd religion killing members of another. When will the nonsensical killing in the nome of god end?
    All religion is wrong!
    You are all the most dangerous fools.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • petercha

      How do you know if the Navy Seals were members of any religion? They could have been atheists! This was NOT done for religious reasons.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Jeff Bertram

      Because the US armed forces are the christian army. They say so at every oppotunity and discharge those that don't adhere. Non-believers are ridiculed and ostrosized. And yes I am a veteran. I saw it first hand. When GWB stood on the world stage and said we are a christian nation he reinforced the need for other intolerant religions to destroy the christian army.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Whatever, the atheists are just as happy to see him dead, whoever did it. I'm just happy an American did it, whatever his religion(or not).

      May 2, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  8. Ivan Libya

    Gee, how convenient, buried at sea, so no one can verify this claim, nice! And the U.S. Government pulls another one over the eyes of the idiots who so desperately want to believe that the Government is all good and would NEVER deceive its people.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Larry

      Are you saying this is another "mission accomplished", or a WMD situatioin, where the former president either lied or was too stupid to know?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • MarkinFL

      So what do you believe really happened? What is YOUR theory?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  9. john


    Get you head out of Obama's behind. He did not get him. The armed forces got him. People like you are so stupid.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  10. Rover Serton

    I'm sure they took plenty of blood for indepentent ID, and Photo's. but they had to get rid of the body to keep a shrine from occuring. If you put him in under the new World trade site, it would have been their shrine.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  11. joy

    I wish I could hear his conversation with God.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Junebugg

      I wish I could hear his conversation with Satan! "It really is quite hot down here buddy!"

      May 2, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Rick

      Yep, when you die you will see GOD!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  12. Larry L

    I was curious about how long it would take the racists to start the latest conspiracy theory. Less than a couple of hours... That sort of behavior is a slap in the face of the Special Forces Soldiers who executed the mission, the Intelligence Community who tirelessly put together the operation, and our magnificent Commander In Chief who put some swagger back in the step of every American.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  13. gregg

    I was watching Celebrity Apprentice last night when the show was interrupted by a Special Report. Seems the world was watching and waiting for the President to step up to the microphone and make his special announcement. CNN reported that Obama was taking his time to get his message RIGHT, as this would go down in history as turning point in both Obama administration and of course, history.

    Here's my take on what could have happened..

    Do we truly believe that Obama sat around for those two hours carefully choosing his words for his special announcement? I think it was taking some time on a Sunday night to rally up Obama's Facebook followers to get them to the front of White House for the cameras.

    Wake up to find that Osama has been buried at sea. Buried at sea? Out of respect for Islam, Osama had to be buried in 24 hours? Based on who's time clock? They keep using the phrase "this was a kill operation", okay, I'll buy that one but, was it also a "timed operation" as well? In other words, why the rush to bury him at sea? 10 years is spent hunting him down and after 10 years of a hunt (and a kill) we're expected to believe that Osama was shot in the head, was hiding in plain sight and oh, by the way, was buried at sea. All this happened within 24 hours?

    Now, if he was truly buried at sea, the question would be why? I seem to remember 3,000 Americans being buried under RUBBLE in New York and no set time frame to dig them out to give them a proper burial so, why would Osama Bin Laden qualify for any respectful burial procedure based upon his religious beliefs.

    The World Trade Center was a "timed kill operation" by a terrorist group and if Islam is NOT the focus of the war against terrorism – then it stands to reason the war is against terrorist organizations – no matter what their religion. So, a burial at sea for Bin Laden makes no sense.

    Going back to the images at the White House of teens (and very young adults) cheering the White House late last night. Sorry, but, most of those on camera were ten years old when the Trade Centers fell. It now appears as though Social Networking is the new "image tool" utilized to rally the troops toward the next election.

    WOW! What a weekend this was! First, a Royal Wedding then the ceremonies leading up to the sainthood of John Paul (deserved) and the kill operation of Bin Laden replete with a burial at sea. Now, if gas prices would just start easing their way down.

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

      I tuned in at 9 for weather from the local FOX affiliate, and ended up with a special feed from FOX news. Geraldo was anchor, so I didn't believe a word of it. Then I turned to a REAL news station, CNN.

      Congrats CNN for breaking the story! Once again they have proven that there's only one place to go for international news coverage.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • MarkinFL

      So. What's your point? Did you have one?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Larry

      You admit to watching celebrity apprentice, and expect anyone with an IQ above room temperature to care about anything you have to say?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • MASher

      Respecting his religious beliefs wasn't done for his sake. If we had wrapped his body in bacon and disrespected him in every way known to Islam, as I have seen some people suggest in various comments, then we would have enraged his followers and incited further violence. By doing everything in the correct way, we aren't giving them the window to retaliate for our sacrilege. We're trying to be peaceful and put an end to this.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Suparag

      No time limit was set for getting people buried in the rubble, because Bush was busy reading to kindergarten kids with the book upside down. Did not have the balls or the brains to do anything right. If not for Guliani the cleanup would not have been done with any efficiency. Then he left things incomplete, and had to go kill Saddam because he threatened "pappy".

      What a joke you are. The reason he was buried in sea, was to prevent a rallying point for terrorists, and your pea brain cannot understand it.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Its not his followers we were being sensitive. We killed him, that is likely to anger them little anyway. It was all the other hundreds of millions of Muslims that we were showing deference too. It removes a possible flashpoint for converting more extremists. This defuses a lot of his martyr power. Now it is simply he is dead and gone. No martyrs body. No desecration. No shrine. Just erased. Perfect!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  14. Sutemi

    An "elegant" solution would have been to allow Bin Laden's carcass to be enshrined, then photograph, identify and/or assassinate all visitors to the shrine. You're dumb.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  15. Deborah Morgan

    They should have hung him from a flag pole @ ground zero or the White House!!!

    May 2, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  16. Don

    Why respect his religious wishes? They should of kept his head for display purposes.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • CB

      Because it places us apart from what bin Laden and his followers would do were the situation revered. Not to mention the US is under an amazing microscope, our conduct needs to be above reproach.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  17. Kane

    I'm just worried that the terrorists might locate and resuscitate him with their advanced technologies. The west would surely shudder were they to behold RobOsama bin Laden, leader of the Decepticons.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Da Professor

      Kane - Having a bad day are you?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  18. Mike

    At least with being buried at sea, there are predators down there which have access to his body that are able to tear him limb from limb for those of us who can't do it ourselves.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  19. gab

    Wonder how Bin Laden is enjoying his first day in Hell?

    May 2, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Jack Kavorkian

      They SAID there would be virgins – where am I?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Show Us The After Birth

      Exactly. Why didn't they TELL me my 70 virgins were gonna be carrying sharp objects ? Oh wait...70/1...How could I be so stupid ? I should have known there was a hitch.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  20. CC

    "Burial at sea" just may have been the Navy's version of providing a bit of "chum" to the sharks there.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Jack Kavorkian

      Good point. Obviously Bin Laden's many other 'chums' will be needing new addresses.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:24 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
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.