Cairo: Islam is opposed to burials at sea, a spokesman for Al-Azhar, the top Sunni Muslim authority, said on Monday after US officials said al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been given a watery grave.
"If it is true that the body was thrown into the sea, then Islam is totally against that," Mahmud Azab, an adviser to the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, said.
"Any corpse, if it belongs to someone murdered or someone who died of natural causes, must be respected," said Azab, the adviser to Al-Azhar`s chief for inter-religious affairs.
"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" unless it is inevitable like for those who drowned, he said.
The Cairo-based Al-Azhar is the most prestigious centre of religious learning in the Sunni Muslim world. US officials said today that 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 a news agency, adding that there was no time for negotiations with other countries to arrange for a possible burial.
Earlier, an administration official said of the
corpse: "We are ensuring that it is handled in accordance with
Islamic practice and tradition.
"This is something that we take very seriously. And so
therefore this is being handled in an appropriate manner."
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.