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The Obama administration said that the US chose to bury bin Laden at sea to prevent his burial site from becoming a shrine and because an unnamed country that the US asked to take his body refused. Because Islamic law mandates burial within 24 hours of death, there was no time for the US to ask other countries, counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said, according to the New York Times.
At a press conference Monday, Mr. Brennan assured reporters that his burial had been conducted "in accordance with the Islamic requirements."
"A Muslim, whatever his profession, even a criminal, their rites must be respected. There must be a prayer and the body should be wrapped in white cloth before being buried in the earth, not at sea," [Indonesia Ulema Council] chief Amidhan said. "Many others have condemned it, especially as it was done with extreme hatred against him."
Ahmad al-Tayeb, the top cleric of Egypt's prominent Al Azhar University, also slammed the decision, saying in a statement that it "runs contrary to the principles of Islamic laws, religious values, and humanitarian customs," according to Iran's PressTV. Any of the dead deserve full respect, he said, and a corpse will only be respected if it is buried in the ground.
The US defended its procedures, saying that bin Laden's body was washed and wrapped in a white cloth and "eased" it into the sea.
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina criticized the burial on entirely different grounds. To him, rushing to bury bin Laden in order to be in accordance with Islamic law, "may have been sensitivity taken too far," Fox News reported.
“It would be in our national interests to make a case, [a] documented case, that this was Osama bin Laden. He is dead. I think that would be a smart thing to do, and have it rolled out in a sensitive way, but prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, and some people still won’t believe it." … "This idea of disposing the body within 24 hours because of tradition bothers me a bit because we will be under attack as to whether or not it really was him,” Graham said. “And I’m not so sure that was a wise move. I’d like to hear more about that."
There are concerns that a burial at sea will spur on conspiracy theories that bin Laden isn't actually dead, and that's why the US has no body to show the public. Some of those theories have already begun to surface, particularly in the Arab world. Meanwhile, DNA testing has reportedly provided "99.9 percent certainty" that the person US forces killed was bin Laden, says the government. The US is still debating whether to release the photographs it took of bin Laden before his burial.
Rosaleen Tallon, the sister of a New York firefighter who died in the 9/11 attacks, said that the burial at sea "denied people like her the guarantee of seeing a body and knowing without a shadow of a doubt that Bin Laden was dead," the Los Angeles Times reports.
But despite vocal criticism, there are likely many people who, while curious about the decision to bury bin Laden at sea, are not critical of it – including in the US Muslim community.
Khalid Latif, New York University chaplain and executive director of the university's Islamic Center, said in a column for CNN that sharia law also takes into consideration what is best for society – and when held up to that standard, bin Laden's burial at sea does follow Islamic law.
Humanity on a whole has a right that needs to be considered in regard to bin Laden’s burial. Who would want this man buried next to their loved one? Is it appropriate, especially after he has caused such pain to so many, to put anyone in a situation where they might have to be buried near or next to him?
It also protects his body, Mr. Latif wrote. If bin Laden was buried on land and the location of his body was discovered, there would be the risk not only of the burial site offering an "opportunity for glorification of bin Laden" but also of it being targeted by people still angry over his actions in life.