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. Ken B

    I do not like the fact he was buried at sea. What does that say about all the Sailors and Marines that were buried at sea over the years ? They should have cut up his body and sold the parts to the rich for trophies. I'm tired of the political correctness..

    May 2, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  2. RedTeam


    May 2, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  3. PJ

    He was buried at seas in "accordance with Islamic law." Geez, the thngs we choose to care about.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  4. altapres

    Osama-Obama rhymes.Same banana. Both are killers.One is a killer of babies while the other a killer of people.

    May 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Ken in MO

      You sound like that other terriorist but she is an American....Sarah Palin. You are a sick human being and you need help. I pray that God shows you more compassion, mercy and common sense than you show others....I bet you think you're a Christian too.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • CAWinMD

      Then you are duty-bound by law to report a killer to the cops. I would expect you to go to the cops right this instance and give them the proof you have for such an accusation. And after they laugh you out of the precinct, hopefully you will reflect on what a huge idiot you are.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Lisa

      Like it, or not, it is a fact – both Obama and Osama are killers – at least by way of their "orders to kill".

      May 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  5. sagebrush shorty

    Burial at sea? Aren't the oceans polluted enough already without adding more trash?

    May 2, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  6. Moose Knuckle

    Bin Laden's body should have been flown back to the states and put into a glass container at ground zero for all to see.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  7. Victor

    I really believe that he is in captivity, not killed or burried. USA do not care about how/where/when/how is is burried. It is insane to believe that he is now burried at sea. It is just so much information to obtain from him, for not killing him. It is just too much trouble to explain and worry with the Islam world that is in in captivity ... you figure that out. I truly believe that if he is really killed, there must be film and pictures showing his body .... this is a big victory and there is only one and only one moment to prove to the American people and the world that he is really killed. It is so silly for most people who believed he is burried at sea !

    May 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Jim

      I absolutely agree with you Victor. It all seems a bit fishy...no pun intended. I hope that we actually have him in captivity. I would understand why the US would want the world to think he was dead if he actually was in captivity. You would've thought that someone would have the sense to video tape the "burial" service or something...but there's absolutely nothing out there. In 24 hours, we went from bin Laden being alive, to dead, to we buried his body already too?? I'm not one to believe that Tupac is still alive, but this seems way too weird.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • pazke

      I think you need to lay off the Koolaid.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  8. Alejandro Dron

    Graphic Commentaries on the Middle East

    May 2, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  9. Khalil

    Emotionally when I think I would have sliced it in pieces and flashed it in the toilet or somewhere worst that that. but as an american soldier and a muslim we are better than that, so we don't have to go their level, they don't follow islamic rules but we should follow the fules huminity.

    May 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  10. evos

    What if they retaliate? What if there are bad people in the US right now planning revenge? What if they put cyanide in the city water?

    May 2, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  11. Elite

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjnltxaPDyE This looks like the guy who might have killed bin laden

    May 2, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  12. Adelina

    "Elegant" solution? I'd say "clever." Americans are brainy, after all, in this regard.

    May 2, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  13. Muneef

    Osama is one name of the Lions, Lived on Deserts and on the tip of the Mountain and now buried as an Ocean Sailor in to the Arabian Gulf..
    Should say after all it was a mighty wise choice and am sure if they had given him the choice then as Righteous he would have chosen the Ocean avoiding therefore the "Fitnna" temptation of Seduce by Satan  misleading people to "Zalalah" being far Astray.

    After all God knows if the late will end to the bottom of the ocean as a full complete corpse or will be missing parts that might have head for the American labs? Who knows they might be already making more copies of him the late for the future "hide and seek"games...!?

    What ever the case might be or made done, we are supposed to say the following;  
    Believers: The Ultimate Victors
    [2:216] Fighting may be imposed on you, even though you dislike it. But you may dislike something which is good for you, and you may like something which is bad for you. GOD knows while you do not know.
    Where Do We Go From Here?
    [2:154] Do not say of those who are killed in the cause of GOD, "They are dead." They are alive at their Lord, but you do not perceive.

    [2:155] We will surely test you through some fear, hunger, and loss of money, lives, and crops. Give good news to the steadfast.

    [2:156] When an affliction befalls them, they say, "We belong to GOD, and to Him we are returning."

    May 2, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  14. Mycology

    Just one more reason to pee in the ocean.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:40 pm |

      Never thought of that. Next time I am near the ocean will do just that!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  15. Mark from Middle River

    I agree with Frogist post. Part of me wanted to cheer last night but there was a part of me that knows the only thing I should cheer is the Ops of the mission. I cheer them for doing what they did. I do not cheer for a guys death, not even Ladens.

    Amsterdam Vallon: 'When you kill a king, you don't stab him in the dark. You kill him where the entire court can watch him die. "

    May 2, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  16. Bob

    We should have put his burial site in the middle of nowhere with a drone constantly monitoring the location. Talk about duck hunter al-qaeda style. We could have picked off all of the "worshipers" headed to the shrine and knocked al-qaeda off the map one-by-one.

    May 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  17. Rick

    So as to the original article, at first I thought why at sea? But then as it sunk in and I heard some of the explanations, I really agree with the author of this article that this was a very elegant solution. No shrine site, over with quickly, non-offensive to the Muslim world. I'm really extremely impressed that this operation was so meticulously planned and thought out, that they even had a suitable solution for the disposal problem also. As for all the nonsense on here about defiling the body, etc, we all know that's not what our country is about. No President would ever stoop so low. We are above that. Great work by everyone involved, especially the SEALs!

    May 2, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Addy

      Well said!

      May 2, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  18. Kendall

    I think Bin Laden should get a proper burial, per Islamic Law. We should show the Islamic world that we respect them and their customs. His death should be enough justice for us, although I would've preferred a trial by jury.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Abdul

      don't be a moron................

      May 2, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Ken in MO

      I agree with you completely. I feel bad, because I am a Christian, to be celebrating this man demise. But I believe in justice because we had no choice. I am against capital punishment because we have the bad guys under control in prison. This nut job was not under our control and would continue to cause our deaths. His death was completely justified. Once he was dead our need for justice was fulfilled...we should now honor a peaceful religion. We are better than he is and we are better than the crazies that support him. With that said, burying him at sea is permissable by islamic law...so God will continue to grant us justice by condeming his soul.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • AP

      Really – that was moronic!

      May 2, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  19. David Bluesnow

    he caught naked in bed with 6 goats.

    May 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  20. Frogist

    Also must we use this as an opportunity to hammer on the muslims? Can't we just take this as a morbid "victory" of sorts, justice in the name of those lost around the world to this man's hatred?

    May 2, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • BG

      @ Frogist

      Yes and partially.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • truth giver

      respect is a two way street. the muslim religious leaders want the west to treat osama's corpse with respect when muslims regularly mutilated, defiled and profaned the bodies of american contractors and soldiers (who were presumably christian) in iraq and elsewhere. but all is fair game when you're dealing with an "infidel" i guess. in any case, the imams who are complaining should be grateful the u.s. military didn't decide to play football with osama's detached head...or worse. maybe these religious leaders should be thinking about why they tacitly supported arab dictators for so long (and still do) while their own people are rising up for (american style) democracy.

      May 2, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • opoT


      May 2, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • amphiox

      In the end, the manner in which we bury him says nothing at all about him, and everything about us. It who WE are and what WE do. We are the kind of people who treat the bodies of fallen enemies with respect, and do our best to bury them in accordance with the wishes they expressed in life, to the best of our knowledge, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE. It says NOTHING at all about who he was and what he did, and neither should it.

      The only thing that matters with respect to Osama bin Laden is this: he is buried.

      He is buried.

      That is all.

      May 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • DK

      Death was too quick for him, he needed to be punished. He was lucky that an SF guy nailed him in the head. I would have preferred a slower, more painful approach in order for him to feel what those people in Tower 1 and 2 felt. Perhaps you don't remember that some people jumped to their death rather than remain trapped in a burning tower. We should NEVER forget the hatred this man spread throughout the world and the pain he caused. He got off too easy.

      May 2, 2011 at 10:21 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.