Controversy in death: Seven questions about Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea

Just as his life had been a flashpoint of contention, Osama bin Laden’s death has incited fresh disputes about whether his burial at sea was done in accordance with Islamic law. Critics, from Islamic scholars to 9/11 survivors, have censured the Obama administration’s decision to swiftly bury Mr. bin Laden's body at sea.

The White House insisted Monday that the burial was performed with respect to Islamic custom and that the administration had consulted with Islamic experts and decided beforehand how to handle bin Laden’s body.

Here’s a closer look at Islamic burial practices and whether bin Laden’s body was handled in accordance with Islamic law.

Tatan Syuflana/AP
An Indonesian reads a newspaper in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, May 3, with the front page reporting the U.S. killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. The headline reads: " Osama Finished."

1. What is the traditional Islamic burial?

US Navy/REUTERS/file
The USS Carl Vinson, pictured here on April 4, was the site of Osama bin Laden's controversial burial at sea.

In Islam, burials are performed simply and swiftly, as soon as possible after death.

Islamic law prescribes a ritual washing, shrouding in a simple white cloth, and a traditional burial in the ground. After a ritual funeral prayer led by an Imam, the shrouded body is typically placed directly in the ground, sans coffin, and the body positioned on its right side, facing Mecca.

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