CAIRO: Top Muslim scholars said Islam is opposed to burials at sea like the one Osama bin Laden received on Monday after being shot dead in a US operation in Pakistan.
The United States says bin Laden received Muslim religious rites but his body was “eased” into the Arabian Sea so that no one can build a shrine on his grave.
“If it is true that the body was thrown into the sea, then Islam is totally against that,” said Mahmud Azab, an adviser to Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the top Sunni Muslim authority.
A senior US defence official said that US forces administered Muslim religious rites for bin Laden aboard an aircraft carrier on Monday in the Arabian Sea, after he was shot dead in a raid on his Pakistan villa.
“Today religious rights were conducted for the deceased on the deck of the USS Carl-Vinson which is located in the North Arabian Sea,” the official said.
“Traditional procedures for Islamic burial were followed. The deceased's body was washed and then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag.
“A military officer read prepared religious remarks which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat-board... (and) eased into the sea.”
The ceremony began at 0510 GMT and ended some 50 minutes later aboard the aircraft carrier which is stationed off the coast of Pakistan to help US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
But Azab insisted that the dead should be given full respect regardless of how they died or their beliefs, an opinion shared also by several other Muslim scholars.
“Any corpse, if it belongs to someone murdered or someone who died of natural causes, must be respected,” said Azab, who advises Al-Azhar's chief for inter-religious affairs at the Cairo-based prestigious institution.
“The bodies of believers and non-believers, Muslim or Christian, must be respected,” he said, adding that Tayeb was due to issue a formal statement.
“Islam only accepts burials” at sea unless it is inevitable like for those who drown, he said.
US officials said bin Laden was buried at sea after being shot dead in a US helicopter-borne raid on his fortified villa in Pakistan to avoid a “shrine”situation.
“We wanted to avoid a situation where it would become a shrine,” one official told AFP, adding that there was no time for negotiations with other countries to arrange for a possible burial.
Muzammil H. Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, an association that interprets Islamic law, said putting a body into the sea “is not a normal solution.”
“Normally if a person dies at sea, travelling at sea, then they can put him in sea, throw the body in the water. But if somebody dies on the land then normally they do not throw the body in the sea,” Siddiqi said.
“I was hearing on the news that this was done so that no one can build a shrine on his grave, that might have been a consideration... (but) every person deserves the right to be buried.”
“I don't know why they did it,” he said of the watery grave.
A source close to the head of the Grand Mosque in Paris said a burial at sea “is totally against the sacrosanct rules of Islam.”
When a Muslim dies his body must be washed in a special ritual carried out by Muslims and buried in the ground as soon as possible, usually in the 24 hours following the death.
The corpse is usually wrapped in a white shroud and placed directly in the grave, without a coffin.
“The body must be placed in a parallel line with Mecca (Islam's holiest site in Saudi Arabia) and the head of the deceased must be turned right, in the direction of the Kaaba, the sacred sanctuary in Mecca,” the source at the Paris Grand Mosque said.