Getting it Half Right Means Getting it Wrong

Ask any student and they will tell you that a 50% doesn’t make the grade.

It’s a failure.


The internet is aflutter with news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, the actions of the US Military, the decisions of our politicians and military leaders and the aftermath of his death.

Reporters were grilling John O. Brennan, a senior counterterrorism official in the Obama White House, about how Osama Bin Laden’s body was handled and how Muslims were going to react to it.

Brennan reiterated how the US Military, who talked to “Muslim experts,” disposed of his body in a proper way according to Islamic law. 

The White House and the Military proudly proclaimed that they bathed and enshrouded the body according to Islamic belief and buried it within the 24-hour period prescribed for burial in Islamic law.

Then they buried him at sea.


Confirming that they consulted with Islamic experts (note, they never said the words “Islamic clerics”), government officials obviously made the decision to ignore a major component of Islamic burial law, and indeed, the Muslim way of submission.

Although burial tradition varies from region to region, one universally accepted convention is to bury the body of a faithful Muslim in, someway, facing the Qibla in Mecca (the head, the whole body, on the right side…that is up for debate). This custom reflects the believer’s submission to Allah, central to Islamic faith and practice. Just as every Muslim prays in submission to Allah by aligning their body towards Mecca in prayer (salat), so too the Muslim forever orients their body towards Mecca in submission to Allah in burial.

In addition, there is also some question as to whether or not the proper funeral prayers (reflecting the traditional five daily prayers) were said at the burial.

So, the government got it at least half right.

Cleansing and enshrouding? Check. Proper burial prayers? Maybe. Proper burial? Um…

Certainly, there were strategic reasons for not burying Bin Laden in Pakistan or Afghanistan or anywhere else for that matter. However, you cannot have it both ways. You can’t say you buried a body according to religious custom when you missed one of the most foundational elements of the disposition of a dead body – the burial itself.

There will most certainly be blowback from this debacle. We need to be prepared for that from both fundamentalists and sincere Muslims offended at the government’s lack of care for Islamic religious prescriptions for proper burial. Of course, there would have been outcries even if we made the attempt to follow every Islamic burial prescription. Nitpickers would have made sure of that. On the other hand, there are many who simply do not care whether or not we followed Islamic law.

No matter, we should not be claiming something we did not do; and in this case we did not bury Osama Bin Laden according to widely accepted Islamic law. In the end, getting it half right means getting it wrong.



Filed under Islam, Religion and the Public Sphere

4 responses to “Getting it Half Right Means Getting it Wrong

  1. Tony

    Very interesting. I was wondering what the heck was going on when they said they would bury him properly and then went and dropped him in the ocean. Unless, of course, there’s we don’t know about Islam and there are millions and millions of dead people on the ocean floor?

    I agree – the government shouldn’t say one thing and then, inadvertently or not, do another.

    Having said all that… I don’t care.

  2. recreative

    Oh Tony. That last line reminded me why I value your friendship. Blatant honesty IS your strong suit sir.

    Thanks for stopping by for a read and for your comment.

  3. recreative

    I have to say, I really enjoyed this article from CNN’s Belief Blog –

    There is some great clarification here, and honestly, it reflects a little more understanding on the American side regarding proper burial for Osama Bin Laden. Furthermore, it is also very illuminating in regards to the fact that many Muslims actually don’t care about how Osama was buried.

    In a way, it kind of takes a lot of the wind out my sails in this post…maybe.

    • Tony

      That’s a good article too. I particular like the part where that guy from the place says that Muslims wouldn’t care about Osama’s burial considering all the heinous stuff he’d done.

      Also, to clarify my earlier comment (if needed) it is the method of burial I do not care for – not your article.

      BTW… I get tongue tied so easily… does your President have to be called Obama? Osama… Obama. It’s not easy dealing with those two in the same sentence.

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