Bin Laden’s Burial at Sea: Insulting to Muslims?


Was Osama Bin Laden’s burial at sea in accordance -- or a violation -- of Islamic tradition? That is one of the more prominent questions on the minds of Islamic scholars and clerics, foreign policy experts as well as American citizens on the day after President Barack Obama announced his death.

As news quickly spread regarding the secret mission that led to Bin Laden’s ultimate demise, many in the Muslim community immediately turned their attention to how the man responsible for one the most horrific terrorist attacks in U.S. history was treated after his death. Upon learning that Bin Laden was buried at sea, many question whether the move was an affront Islamic tradition, and whether it would be met with disdain from average Muslims -- and even subsequent revenge from radical militants.

Like seemingly everything else related to Middle East policy, religious custom and historical events, Bin Laden's burial has been met with a mixed reaction from respected Muslim figures. Some scholars and religious leaders contend it was humiliating. They say the standard practice of placing the body in a grave -- with the head pointed towards the holy city of Mecca -- was unfairly disregarded. Typically, the only time sea burials are permitted, they claim, is when the deaths occurred aboard a ship and land is too far away.

American officials, however, maintain that they made the decision to dispose of Bin Laden’s body in this fashion because they doubted any country would want to accept his remains. That, coupled with concern over the grave site becoming a physical rallying point for militants solidified the decision.

When discussing the matter, President Obama made it a point to specify that Bin Laden’s body had been dealt with according to Islamic customs. Further, the Pentagon has released details, which say the corpse was placed into the waters of the northern Arabian Sea after religious protocol was followed.

The guidelines, according to MSNBC, were carried out as follows: the body was washed and then wrapped in a white sheet and placed into a weighted bag. From there, a military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated in Arabic by a native speaker. And, finally, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up and eased into the sea from the USS Vinson.

Nevertheless, despite the apparent thought and care put into dealing with Bin Laden’s remains, the outrage is already beginning. CIA Director Leon Panetta, almost immediately warned that "terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge the death.

"Bin Laden is dead," Panetta wrote in a memo to CIA staff. "Al-Qaida is not."

Mohammed Qudah, a professor of Islamic law at the University of Jordan, accepted America’s treatment of Bin Laden’s corpse.

"The land and the sea belong to God, who is able to protect and raise the dead at the end of times for Judgment Day," he said. "It's neither true nor correct to claim that there was nobody in the Muslim world ready to receive bin Laden's body."

Clerics in Iraq, remained critical about the U.S. action according to a Yahoo report. One said it only benefited fish.

"If a man dies on a ship that is a long distance from land, then the dead man should be buried at the sea," said Shiite cleric Ibrahim al-Jabari. "But if he dies on land, then he should be buried in the ground, not to be thrown into the sea. Otherwise, this would be only inviting fish to a banquet."


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