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. bostongraf

    That you believe that the viewing of a dead body is your RIGHT speaks volumes. And the observance of Islamic law was done to prevent radicals from using mistreatment as a rallying cry...in other words: to protect you.

    May 2, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  2. jdonavan

    Yes...and since the man died of kidney failure over 8 years ago, it's about time, too, don't you think? Get real. This is purely a publicity stunt by the Obama administration to get help for their abysmal polling numbers.

    May 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  3. KYss My Ring

    Ok, listen up kids. This is officially "inspired".
    In 3 days a whale will spit him out, (just like Jonah). At that time, dollars to donuts, his followers will begin to claim he has arisen. Then they will start holding suppers and saying fish sticks are changed into him. Then everyone will eat the fish sticks, and live happily ever after. Amen. Repent and pay me for I am building a new school for little boys.

    May 2, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  4. EX-E4

    New to this chat house, take it easy on me.

    May 2, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  5. graham banks

    Seems Obama has more loyalty to Islamic traditions than to the right of the American people to receive satisfactory visual evidence of the fruits of their sacrifices.

    May 2, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  6. C-8

    I have an inside source within the Shamsi Air Base, in southern Pakistan, where Bin Laden's body was flown out of to meet up with the ship that took him out to sea. So far, I have not seen this being reported by any sources: The body was placed in a secure, steel box and dropped it into deep water – at an undisclosed location. They placed a special transmitting device inside that will allow the U.S. to monitor its location. You can imagine the importance of it never being recovered, and if it was, that the Pentagon be able to track it.

    May 2, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  7. Alex B-P

    They should have cremated him (Islam forbids cremation), and used his ashes to make kitty litter. I don't think it would be clumping litter, though. That would be the first time that I enjoyed using the litter-box.

    May 2, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  8. Ich bin Amerikaner

    Everyone's welcome at my house tonight. We're having pork chitlins!!

    May 2, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  9. Alex B-P

    Did anyone check to see his ladies' underwear?

    May 2, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Doug

      Yeah, and he wore a bra too.

      May 2, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  10. jj

    I just can't believe that there was no country in the world willing to take the body, so the only option was to buty it at sea. How conVENient.

    May 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • jj

      Sorry, typo – meant bury

      May 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  11. neptonomist sentry

    They should have brought him back some some rednecks could drag his headless body behind a pick up truck. That's what Muslims like to do with Westerners' corpse, right?

    May 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  12. Sharon

    I think burying OBL at sea was a brilliant move. No martyrdom, no shrine, and no offending Muslim sensibilities. That being said, one of the most conforting thoughts for me personally, is picturing him as shark bait. I do hope the sharks do okay.....

    May 2, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  13. Kay

    Where are the real photos?... I am skeptical. Fake corpse photo already being circulated in the media...

    May 2, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Bob

      I agree. Do I believe these reports? To some extent; however, several coincidents to consider: first and foremost, timing. One would expect such reactions from USA citizens and the press from such an announcement of bin ladin's capture or death. How advantageous to those who would benefit most from such an occurrence, especially given the timing of its occurrence as related to the forthcoming presidential race. Additionally, recent release of copy of supposed original birth certificate; too many self-serving, politically motivated comments in the current statements; no actual body of evidence thanks to such consideration of bin ladin's religious beliefs. What about the religious beliefs and customs of each of the 9/11 victims? They were totally denied such consideration given the manner of their deaths. Skeptical? Absolutely.

      May 2, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Frogist

      I think it's only fair that some people feel anxious to accept that he'd dead at this point seeing as it's been so long since the search for this man started. But to be honest, I believe it. DNA confirms it! And the president making a speech certainly confirms it for me. What president would stick his neck out that far on a lie that is easily countered by Al Qaeda releasing another video? Fact of the matter is some people don't WANT to believe it. It's politically valid in their minds to refuse any evidence that our president has achieved something many thought was impossible. Sorry, but as much as I am anxious to accept that a fight of nearly 10 yrs is over, I am not as fearful or bitter as those who would deny this victory because their political views make them too uncomfortable to acknowledge it.

      Osama Bin laden is dead. Come to terms with it or risk looking like just another birther.

      BTW considering I don't want his followers constructing some shrine for worshipping his horrible personage, and knowing it's acceptable under islamic burial rules, I'm kinda glad he went in the ocean too.

      May 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • It Could Happen

      "I don't want his followers constructing some shrine for worshipping his horrible personage,..."

      I don't either, but they'll probably do it anyway - grab a bloody rag from the scene, or something. In fact, there are many shrines to some heroes (one in particular comes to mind) which don't even have anything of said hero to show off.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  14. Richard

    I'd be interested in learning how the atheists view the killing of bin Laden... unfavorably, I presume?

    May 2, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Why presume that?

      May 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Peace2All


      What the F...?!?!?!

      May 2, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • bostongraf

      We are happy that a mass murderer will not be able to kill again.

      May 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Frogist

      Wow Richard, I guess it's true, some people are just born trolls.

      May 2, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Just ME

      Anytime a religious zealot is silenced from spreading their unfounded belief systems, I am a happy man. Religion...the number one cause of murder since the dawn of time.

      May 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  15. GSA

    He's dead, sweet! Now we can feel safe and happy, no more levels of threat, no more intense checks at the airports....oh wait, guess not.
    Great for media and sense of pride and justice but will this really make any difference? I am glad that he was cuaght and taken out and many of the families that lost loved ones must feel a sense of justice as well but things will go on just as they had been.

    May 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  16. John

    Isn't it funny that he was quickly chucked into the sea without evidence? Can we have some evidence of the firefight? Of the aftermath? Of the body? Of the funeral? Of the chucking into the sea? Or are we supposed to stick to protocol and believe this blindly?
    And if we do get pictures, which we probably will, why have we not gotten them yet? The body is gone. The pictures have been taken. Why have we not seen them yet? Do they need to be edited?

    May 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      So, you have an alternative theory? Many people screaming conspiracy, no one making any sense. If this is a lie it would be quite easy for Al Queda to create a new video with OBL and shove it down our throats. Al Queda is confirming it. Are they part of the conspiracy?
      Come back when you make some sense.

      May 2, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Adam

      You're absolutely right, John. It's time we send Donald Trump into the sea with a camera and a couple weights around his ankles. He'll get to the bottom of our government's lies. He always does. Idiot.

      May 2, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Nader

      Americans are gullible fools. They are supposed to feel better and forget about the economy/debt now and re-elect obama next year. Does the death of OBL means that his long standing order of filming al qaeda leaders with the crappiest blurry camera equipment is now cancelled?
      Hey I got rid of OBL in 2009. You need to believe me because I said so. And you are a traitor if you ask me for proof.

      May 2, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  17. MHM1204

    The Military reports to the Commander in Chief, the President of the USA. It’s been almost two years that Obama has been in office and he is blamed for everything that was not accomplished by the prior Administration.
    The Prior Administration had at its disposal hundreds of thousands of Active Military personal. He never was able to capture him or kill him. The military reports to the Commander in Chief, that’s it... no mission accomplished on his watch…

    And the Military does not run around on its own without the approval of the Leadership, this just simply does not happen.
    I am an Airborne Ranger from the 1st Ranger BN with 4 Years active duty in this unit in the late 70's thru 80's.....
    GW failed to get him and this Administration finished the job. If you cannot understand the facts then like all other idiots you are too stupid to vote

    May 2, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • brad

      Please, try to sound more ignorant! It's always impressive seeing someone pontificate about a matter they have no valid opinion on other than 'i served.' Lots of people have served, both the heroic, brave, and intelligent to the sociopaths, murderers, and morons who should never have been given the opportunity to be in the military.

      May 2, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Seraphim0

      What's the matter, Brad? How does he sound ignorant?

      May 2, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Brad, please remember that the US Military had bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora, but were not allowed to advance and were ordered to withdraw by Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. If the whole point of the Afghan invasion was to capture and/or kill bin Laden, why did the SecDef not allow the military to carry out its mission back in 2003? Back when I was in the military (back when Daddy Bush was president), any result other than victory was a defeat. W's Administration did not allow our troops to obtain the victory they deserved.

      May 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • KDJ1604

      actually, it was Bush that combined all the intelligence for teh U.S. under one department that made this possible. if it had not of been for that all of them would still be running incircles chasing there tails.

      May 2, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  18. Clint

    After nearly 10 years and who knows how many millions or maybe even billions spent I kind of liked the thought of the wrapped in bacon and hanging from flag pole at White House idea. But I guess considering everything else, yea DUMPING him at sea is likely the wisest choice. But, what I really am interested in finding out is, of the four men killed in that compound, which one of them used the woman as a human shield. Shame she had to die as well, it is my bet that his initials are OBL.

    May 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  19. Dannel Arnold

    Let them come to a shrine and pick em off from the ridge!

    May 2, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  20. BOB

    Next time you see me peeing in the ocean......you will know why I have that big smile on my face!!!!

    May 2, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Alex B-P

      Nice one. Me too.

      May 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
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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.