Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea has spurred worldwide debate among Islamic leaders and scholars: Did the U.S. government follow Islamic tradition, as it contends?
Some saw the burial as an appropriate option; others decried it as an unacceptable way to treat a body of a Muslim, regardless of his actions in life.
Muslim clerics gave some customs commonly followed:
• The preference is for bodies to be buried on land, but custom allows for sea burials if someone dies on a ship and there is no way to quickly get the body to land.
• The body must be buried within 24 hours and should not be cremated or embalmed.
• In the grave, the head should be pointed toward the holy city of Mecca.
• Before burial, the body needs to be ritually washed from top to bottom and dried.
• After the washing, custom calls for the body to be wrapped in three pieces of cloth for men, five pieces for women.
• The funeral service should include a special burial prayer with four parts to glorify God, and reading of the first chapter of the Quran.
President Barack Obama said bin Laden’s remains had been handled in accordance with custom and the Pentagon later said the body was sunk in the waters of the northern Arabian Sea after adhering to traditional Islamic procedures — including washing the corpse.
A U.S. official said the burial decision was made after concluding it would have been difficult to find a country willing to accept bin Laden’s remains. There was also concern that a grave site could have become a rallying point for militants.
Some prominent Muslim clerics in the Middle East have suggested that the burial at sea could be interpreted by some Muslims as an insult and invite retribution.