Edited by Abdussalam Abdulfattah
Reports have it that when Osama bin Laden was killed, he was laid to rest somewhere in the Arabian Sea. His body was ritually washed, shrouded in plain white sheets, placed in a weighted bag, and then tilted off a flat board from the deck of a USS Ship aircraft carrier and allowed to slide off into the sea.
The decision for his burial at Sea was then taken by the authorities of the United States that killed him. Subjecting that act to Islamic Laws, it is believed what the USA did to his body was in line with Sharia of Islam, but morally it can be questioned. Perhaps it was designed to prevent his grave from becoming “a shrine or symbol amongst his numerous members”.
In Islam death is inevitable and when it comes, only Allah the Greatest has knowledge of it for each of His creatures (animates and inanimates ). “Imam Ali (pbuh) says: “If man sees how speedily his death is coming towards him, he will abhor ambitions and give up admiring the world.” But despite the unpredictable nature of it, Islam thoroughly addresses each circumstance in which it eventually occurs. The glorious Qur’an and Hadith of the Prophet are replete with warnings towards it and what it is expected of the Ummah to do, if it occurs to any member of the community.
The inevitability and suddenness of death is best captured in this Hadith. Abdullah ibn’Umar related that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “It is not right for a Muslim who has something to bequeath to pass two nights without having it in writing in his possession.” [Reported by: Ibn ‘Umar Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 4, p. 1.
Paramount of what is expected is burial of the deceased. Once death is evident, the body should be prepared and taken out of the house for prayer and buried as soon as possible. Abu Hurayrah related that the Prophet said “Hasten the funeral rites.” Sunan Abi Dawud, vol. 2, pp. 897-8. The dead should be buried in the same area death occurred. Transporting the body to another area or another country is not permissible if it will unnecessarily delay the burial or cause financial or other hardship to members of his family or the Ummah. If a person dies on a ship while traveling at sea, according to Imam Ahmad, the people should wait if they hope to reach some place to bury him (such as an island or beach) in a day or two and if they are confident that the body will not decay. However, if they cannot, they should wash the body, shroud and protect it, then pray the funeral prayer and finally, tie something heavy to it and drop it in water. (Al-Mughni, 2/381).
Arising from the fore going is that sea burial is permissible under Islamic Laws but only in extraordinary cases where the death occurs aboard a ship that is a “long distance from land”. The burial at sea might be unorthodox, because Muslims typically should be buried in the ground but it’s not unheard off. However, what was strange in the circumstances of Bin Laden was that he was granted the funeral ceremony reserved for the passing of ordinary Muslims under extra ordinary circumstances; whereas, he was killed on land and was a noble Muslim.