For the past decade it has been “Where the hell is Bin Laden?” Now that he is dead at last, the tabloid mantra is “ROT IN HELL,” at least for the medium of unsubtleness known as the NY Daily News. In less than 24 hours after his James Bond style killing a website appeared on Facebook called Osama Bin Laden is Dead. As can be seen from the screen shot below, the insults of revenge are having their day.


I have no sympathy for Bin Laden, whose obstinate hatred has resulted in an extraordinary waste of life both among Muslims and non-Muslims, but wishing him to hell makes about as much sense as a loony in Florida burning the “Koran.” Bin Laden is dead and his body is now sunk in Davy Jones’ locker. His soul has not gone to some hell where the Devil stands guard with a pitchfork any more than he is now greeting 72 pearl-eyed virgins in an illusory paradise. The hell this man created was here on earth and it is here on earth that his fate has been sealed (quite literally by Navy Seals, it seems).


I suspect that many of those posting about Osama rotting in hell do not actually believe in a literal hell in the afterlife. The 2007 Pew Survey, shown above, indicates that people of all religions have an easier time believing in a literal heaven than a literal hell. Both Christians and Muslims show the same pattern: belief in hell does not match that of a paradise. Of course this does not stop people of all religious persuasions from damning people they don’t like to some kind of wished-for hell.

But there is hell to pay, to be sure. Those who see Bin Laden as the world’s most wanted terrorist are celebrating his death, just as Saddam’s enemies danced joyously when the rope stretched his neck and the streets of Beni Ghazi will erupt with jubilation should Colonel Qaddafi meet a similar fate. Those who saw him as a heroic figure who stood up to America will not doubt double their efforts to inflict the kind of damage symbolized by the destruction of the Twin Towers. All this is understandable, even if rather disturbing.

But then there are the scholars ruminating on the legitimacy of burying Osama at sea. For the purists, a Muslim should only be buried at sea if he dies at sea and there is no other way to guarantee a swift burial. A colleague on the ISLAMAAR list raised another question: “Also, Osama‚Äôs burial at sea raises some troubling questions: it is mandatory to give ghusl and kafn to every Muslim, and of course the salat al-mayyit. Were these rites observed? If so, who delivered these rites?” But does it really matter?

Dead bodies are never really dead when they have martyr written all over them. Where exactly should his bones have been put to rest? Given his hatred of his native Saudi Arabia, I doubt the Saudis would have found space on their soil for him. A burial in Pakistan or Afghanistan would surely have evolved into a shrine. Cremation would have been a most uncultural move. So there were not many options left. Burial at sea is actually the least of the other evils. One can debate if the jots and tittles of Islamic law (and which legal school would Bin Laden have been under since he basically rejected the existing ones and forged ahead on his own?) were followed and who gave him the appropriate last rites. But here was a man who cared little about the final displacement of the people blown to pieces by the suicide missions he blessed. One might argue that disposing his remains in the deep six fashion was a sign of respect he did not deserve.

Daniel Martin Varisco