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. Senor Ed

    I wonder who will play Obama in the movie?

    May 2, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Donald Trump.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  2. Charlie

    Pakistan leaders have some explaining to do.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  3. Doug

    One can only imagine what went thru his mind before the bullet did when he heard and seen American Firepower land in his backyard!

    May 2, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • MarkinFL

      "George, is that you?"

      May 2, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Finger Puppet

      ...and then felt it in his left eye. Welcome to paradise sucka. Enjoy your 70 virgins.

      May 2, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  4. doctore0

    So Bin Laden is a saint now... just like the pope...

    May 2, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • RightturnClyde

      Bin Laden is a lump of rotting crap. (like camel dung)

      May 2, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  5. Barrie

    This is idiotic! He was "buried at sea" to destroy the evidence and forever eliminate any chance of finding out who REALLY was shot, if anyone was. This is just another Obama lie and a complete hoax designed to facilitate his reelection. What an outrage. Shame on you democrats!

    May 2, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • philtration

      You idiots believe in every crazy conspiracy theory throw out there but cannot believe that they actually found and killed him?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • MarkinFL

      So Barrie, this conspiracy of yours must include Al Queda. So if he is alive, we should expect to see a new video real soon shoving thaqt fact up our noses. When that does not happen, what will you believe next?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Show Us The After Birth

      Oh right. And Dubbya never lied.
      Point is, it's gonna work, and his reelection is a certainty.
      Even the scary lookin' Cheney was on TV this morning trying to get in on the action, saying they were "building on what others had done". Why would someone THAT rich have to turn to stand up ?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  6. Cleveland

    This was a good solution, and obviously well thought out. The only problem is that after the conspiracy theorists tire of Obama's birth certificate they will jump onto this.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • MarkinFL

      They probably thought that out too. Keep the nuts busy.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  7. mel

    All i can say is GOOD RIDDENS!

    May 2, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Bucky Ball

      LOL. Good one.
      And I say "Good Riddance".

      May 2, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  8. king

    I am confused... Why people don't want to give President Obama credit for the decapitation of Al-Qaeda, yet want to give credit to President GW Bush. Bush bungled the war in Afghanistan by diverting focus and resources to Iraq, who had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda. Bush had 7 years to track down Bin Laden, but failed to do so.

    Now we are going on the 3rd year of Obama's term and you want to give credit to Bush for this, but you don't want to give credit to Bush for the economic meltdown? Don't you see something wrong with this?

    May 2, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Of course they don't. Its called rampant hypocrisy. These people have an agenda that no facts can get in the way of. However, people are slowly waking up to the fact that just because something is repeated a hundred times, it does not make it true.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  9. desiree

    I am glad he is gone. however i must state my worry about future retailation. are we AMERICANS going to be ready?

    May 2, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Look at it this way. This may cause a lot of already committed bombers to rush the jobs resulting in more mistakes and failures. We may see a flurry of activity, but they will be less planned and more amateurish. Dangerous? Deadly? Yes. But quite possibly less so for being rushed.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  10. siva

    Congrats to USA Navy SEALS and the PRESIDENT for doing the BEST operations in years.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  11. Michael

    A little venting is probably healthy, but that doesn't make some of these posts any less ignorant.
    The right thing to do about OBL's body was consider the effect on the whole world, including Americans who could still be attacked in retaliation. The kind of nonsense spouted by Gregg, Don, and Deborah is just ignorant and proves there are Americans with the same level of mentality as the terrorists we are fighting. Rise above it people.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      You're right.

      May 2, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  12. campersteve

    I hope they ( the U.S. Navy) sent him to sea via the ships 'head'. Congrats to ALL U.S. Forces : Active and Retired!

    May 2, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  13. Larry

    And I'll guarantee KY girl is either from Kentucky, or uses an inordinate amount of KY.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  14. deandake

    It was the perfect way to get rid of the body. Like Mr. Prothero stated, this way there is no OBL shrine or Mecca. There will be no burial procession. The body was taken care of in a way that Muslims can't complain and at the same time no honor was given at the time of burial. The body is now simply fish food. Good riddance to OBL and his son.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  15. Larry

    CC – does choosing your important military officials have anything to do with the success of an operation? What you're essentially saying is that elite groups like the Navy Seals don't rely on orders, or who is giving those orders, at all. How's your 2012 frontrunner, donald trump, doing?

    May 2, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  16. Charlie

    He didn't deserve to be shown respect under the Islamic laws. He didn't follow the laws.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Alex B-P

      Yeah. They should have cremated him (Islam forbids cremation), and used his ashes to make kitty litter.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • bob

      I agree with this 100%, he should've been hung by a street light in times square for all to see / mock. Screw that piece of trash, no respect!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  17. Anthony

    I am retired Navy and have experienced a retiree being buried at sea about 20 years ago. There is a specially made coffin that is used for this purpose. It is made of metal and has several 6” to 8” holes throughout the coffin. I am sure the coordinates are top secret, that is if such a coffin was used. I wonder if there is a special way to bury a Muslim at sea.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • PRex

      Hopefully the "special way" was dumping him in with wrapped in bacon.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  18. Muneef

    Burying at sea is a modest way to say burrying him in the G/Bay Prison Island.....,!!

    May 2, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  19. Muneef

    Some said that the prison break and the escaped prisoners in Afgn was nothing but to locate head...
    Some said he did not die but was granted the wittness protection plan to live undercover....
    Some said he will resurrect after death....
    Some said one Gerry ends service, Tom will appoint another Gerry to chase continuing the game...
    Never one knows what to believe any more...any way if that will bring peace to earth then let it be just stop the harming and hurting game for the sake of the innocent beings....

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

      Huh? Say What?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • HPM


      As to UBL, good riddance. I'm sure it came as quite a surprise not to see any virgins.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Muneef

      Sorry my mistake should have been "Jerry" and not "Gerry"....

      May 2, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  20. Big "E"

    My final request has been to be buried at sea,so now I need to know which sea UBL was buried in so my body wont be contaminated by his. Oh yeah, There is one God and one day you will kneel before him in judement.Might want to do a little more research and studying on this subject.Hope you do.

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

      So which god is the "one god"? When you and everyone else on the internet agree, I'll take a look.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • HERB

      Only One God? Do you mean the Christian-Jewish God, versus a different Islam God?

      May 2, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • RightturnClyde

      Big E and I agree .. one God. and since there is but one .. THAT God. [now some people wouldn't believe it if hey won the lottery ... if you are one of those ... go ahead .. it's a free country [given to you by the blood of Christians and the Protestant work ethic]

      May 2, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • MarkinFL

      How are we supposed to recognize the "right god". Does he where a t-shirt with "THIS ONE" printed on the front and back?

      May 2, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Terra

      All paths of religion lead to God. God is bigger than you think.

      May 2, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
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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.