There are some ethical and religious questions that are arising today among some in the Islamic world over the manner in which Osama bin Laden was buried at sea within 12 hours of being killed on Sunday. While one can rightly claim that bin Laden did not concern himself with others who he helped kill, I do think that some of these questions have a certain validity in being asked. Failing that they clearly have an interesting quality to them that has allowed me more insight into Islamic traditions which I am not well-versed about.
There is no necessity for an imam to be present, he says, but the procedures should be carried out by Muslims at least one of whom “knows the minimum basic Muslim law of burial”.
Whether any such person was present is impossible to know, he says, based on the limited information provided. But he also questions whether sea burial was appropriate in this case.
It is correct to carry out a burial at sea when someone dies on a sea journey, he says, but in this case there was no sound reason for it.
The US authorities could surely have found someone – a member of the extensive Bin Laden family, or even one of the many supporters of his “evil” ideology – who would have been prepared to give the body a proper burial, he argues.
His words were echoed by Mohammed Qudah, a professor of Islamic law at the University of Jordan, who told the Associated Press news agency that burying Bin Laden at sea was not forbidden if there was nobody to receive the body and provide a Muslim burial.
But he went on: “It’s neither true nor correct to claim that there was nobody in the Muslim world ready to receive Bin Laden’s body.”
The agency also quoted Dubai’s grand mufti Mohammed al-Qubaisi, saying that sea burials were permissible only in extraordinary circumstances, adding: “This is not one of them.”
“If the family does not want him, it’s really simple in Islam: You dig up a grave anywhere, even on a remote island, you say the prayers and that’s it,” he said.
US officials have given two reasons why a sea burial was chosen. First, that they did not want his grave to become a shrine. Second, that there was no time to negotiate with other countries to arrange a possible burial on land.
According to CBS News, Saudi Arabia refused to take the body. If correct, this suggests that an offer was made – and that had Saudi Arabia accepted the body, there would have been a grave, which could in theory have become a shrine.
However, ABC’s Jonathan Karl, writing before the burial was confirmed, painted a different picture:
“US officials tell me the last thing they want is for his burial place to become a terrorist shrine.
“To avoid that, an informed source tells me, the intention is the bury his body at sea – leaving no definitive location for the final resting place of his body.”