Burial at Sea: The Best Option for Osama?
The burial process for Muslims is very intricate and holds incredible significance.
America’s traditional preparation of the body includes embalming and a viewing, but Muslims do not embalm. Muslim’s preparation include washing (Ghusl) of the body, which is a intricate process, involving more than a dozen steps, while the second stage of their preparation is shrouding (kafan).
The body is then taken to the Mosque where the funeral ceremony is conducted by the Imam. The service is called the Salatul Janazah, which is “required to be performed in congregation to request pardon for the deceased and all dead Muslims, and to wrap them all in Allah’s Mercy.”
I’m not sure, but I would assume that this ceremony has incredible afterlife implications. It may be possible that Osama — in the eyes of some Muslims — could find himself in hell if he is denied these funeral rituals. Although, with that said, there are some exceptions for martyrs, who don’t need the Salatul Janazah performed for them. I wonder if the Islamic world will consider Osama a martyr? I’m sure there’s division over the answer to that question.
The burial process is also a defined event. A Christian body is buried east to west, while an Islamic body is buried north to south. For Muslims, only the men are allowed to attend the burial AND the men who actually help lower the body into the grave must refrain from sexual intercourse the night before (now, I’m not sure how strictly these burial rituals are adhered to, as I’m sure there’s differences and diversity within the Muslim community).
All this is done within a 24 hour period after death.
As I watched Obama’s address last night, I was listening to hear if he dropped any implication as to how the body will be treated. There was none, and I didn’t expect him to release any of that information during that speech. I wondered if we will autopsy the body, which is also prohibited by Islam. Should we even care?
We in the West have little basis for understanding the Eastern allowance for the display of intense, passionate grief during death. Most white, western funeral services are timid/bland in comparison to those that take place in Eastern culture. Most Westerners approach death in a fairly rational manner, whereas most other cultures are very emotive … and their grief process is probably better for it!
Not only is it emotive, but it’s more so communal. Granted, this is a generalization, but for the most part the only persons who attend western funerals are friends and family, but in Islamic culture it is encouraged that everyone attend, not just those who knew the deceased.
With those two factors considered, the death of a man like Osama can cause an emotional, community outburst. And that outburst is something that the United States should probably take precautionary measures to quell.
These are some questions I have: Do we burn his body and scatter the ashes, so as to make sure no shine is erected over his grave? No doubt such a shrine would become symbol of terrorism. Certainly, though, burning would incite intense hatred from Muslims as cremation is strictly prohibited in Islam.
Do we return his body to his remaining family members? Again, there could be major implications here. If his body was mutilated, this would certainly incite more anger and more hatred from those who already hate the West. It could also push some more neutral Muslims out of the neutral position and into a “Western hatred” stance. But, on the other hand, it could inspire respect from certain Muslim communities towards America; possibly even decreasing their acrimony towards us.
Do we override normal mores and traditions because this is Osama’s body? Do we release pictures of it? Do we parade his body around the United States and the world so as to provide irrefutable physical evidence that he is dead?
This is an exceptional death of an infamous person … and we have his body. What do you think … what would you do?
UPDATE: According to the latest new feeds, Osama was given a proper Muslim ceremony and was buried within a 24 hour period; apparently, he was buried in the Arabian Sea.
In my opinion, this seems to be a very diplomatic and wise move by the US, and although it may not be in accordance with some of our feelings towards Osama — especially those who have lost loved ones to terror attacks — I would think, based on my limited knowledge of Islamic burial customs, that it would quell any major qualms Muslims may have towards the US in the burial of bin Laden.