Islamic Burial at Sea?

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Criticism about bin Laden’s sea burial comes for various reasons: failure to comply with Islamic law, a lack of closure, and the proliferation of conspiracy theories.

By Ariel Zirulnick

Uss-Carl-Vinson-Osama-Bin-Ladenaposs-Burial-At-Sea
File:  the USS Carl Vinson, from which Osama Bin Laden is reported to have been buried at sea.

A growing number of disparate parties, from Islamic clerics to the families of 9/11 victims, are criticizing the US decision to bury Osama bin Laden at sea.

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.”

But in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, the country’s highest Islamic body condemned the burial at sea, Agence France-Presse reports.

“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.

Christian Science Monitor

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White House Quietly Courts Muslims in U.S.

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrea Elliott, NY Times

When President Obama took the stage in Cairo last June, promising a new relationship with the Islamic world, Muslims in America wondered only half-jokingly whether the overture included them. After all, Mr. Obama had kept his distance during the campaign, never visiting an American mosque and describing the false claim that he was Muslim as a “smear” on his Web site.

Nearly a year later, Mr. Obama has yet to set foot in an American mosque. And he still has not met with Muslim and Arab-American leaders. But less publicly, his administration has reached out to this politically isolated constituency in a sustained and widening effort that has left even skeptics surprised.

Muslim and Arab-American advocates have participated in policy discussions and received briefings from top White House aides and other officials on health care legislation, foreign policy, the economy, immigration and national security. They have met privately with a senior White House adviser, Valerie Jarrett, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to discuss civil liberties concerns and counterterrorism strategy.

The impact of this continuing dialogue is difficult to measure, but White House officials cited several recent government actions that were influenced, in part, by the discussions. The meeting with Ms. Napolitano was among many factors that contributed to the government’s decision this month to end a policy subjecting passengers from 14 countries, most of them Muslim, to additional scrutiny at airports, the officials said.

That emergency directive, enacted after a failed Dec. 25 bombing plot, has been replaced with a new set of intelligence-based protocols that law enforcement officials consider more effective.

Also this month, Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim academic, visited the United States for the first time in six years after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reversed a decision by the Bush administration, which had barred Mr. Ramadan from entering the country, initially citing the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Mrs. Clinton also cleared the way for another well-known Muslim professor, Adam Habib, who had been denied entry under similar circumstances.

Arab-American and Muslim leaders said they had yet to see substantive changes on a variety of issues, including what they describe as excessive airport screening, policies that have chilled Muslim charitable giving and invasive F.B.I. surveillance guidelines. But they are encouraged by the extent of their consultation by the White House and governmental agencies.

“For the first time in eight years, we have the opportunity to meet, engage, discuss, disagree, but have an impact on policy,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington. “We’re being made to feel a part of that process and that there is somebody listening.”

In the post-9/11 era, Muslims and Arab-Americans have posed something of a conundrum for the government: they are seen as a political liability but also, increasingly, as an important partner in countering the threat of homegrown terrorism. Under President George W. Bush, leaders of these groups met with government representatives from time to time, but said they had limited interaction with senior officials. While Mr. Obama has yet to hold the kind of high-profile meeting that Muslims and Arab-Americans seek, there is a consensus among his policymakers that engagement is no longer optional.

The administration’s approach has been understated. Many meetings have been private; others were publicized only after the fact. A visit to New York University in February by John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, drew little news coverage, but caused a stir among Muslims around the country. Speaking to Muslim students, activists and others, Mr. Brennan acknowledged many of their grievances, including “surveillance that has been excessive,” “overinclusive no-fly lists” and “an unhelpful atmosphere around many Muslim charities.”

“These are challenges we face together as Americans,” said Mr. Brennan, who momentarily showed off his Arabic to hearty applause. He and other officials have made a point of disassociating Islam from terrorism in public comments, using the phrase “violent extremism” in place of words like “jihad” and “Islamic terrorism.”

While the administration’s solicitation of Muslims and Arab-Americans has drawn little fanfare, it has not escaped criticism. A small but vocal group of research analysts, bloggers and others complain that the government is reaching out to Muslim leaders and organizations with an Islamist agenda or ties to extremist groups abroad.

They point out that Ms. Jarrett gave the keynote address at the annual convention for the Islamic Society of North America. The group was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas-based charity whose leaders were convicted in 2008 of funneling money to Hamas. The society denies any links to terrorism.

“I think dialogue is good, but it has to be with genuine moderates,” said Steven Emerson, a terrorism analyst who advises government officials. “These are the wrong groups to legitimize.” Mr. Emerson and others have also objected to the political appointments of several American Muslims, including Rashad Hussain.

In February, the president chose Mr. Hussain, a 31-year-old White House lawyer, to become the United States’ special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The position, a kind of ambassador at large to Muslim countries, was created by Mr. Bush. In a video address, Mr. Obama highlighted Mr. Hussain’s status as a “close and trusted member of my White House staff” and “a hafiz,” a person who has memorized the Koran.

Within days of the announcement, news reports surfaced about comments Mr. Hussain had made on a panel in 2004, while he was a student at Yale Law School, in which he referred to several domestic terrorism prosecutions as “politically motivated.” Among the cases he criticized was that of Sami Al-Arian, a former computer-science professor in Florida who pleaded guilty to aiding members of a Palestinian terrorist group.

At first, the White House said Mr. Hussain did not recall making the comments, which had been removed from the Web version of a 2004 article published by a small Washington magazine. When Politico obtained a recording of the panel, Mr. Hussain acknowledged criticizing the prosecutions but said he believed the magazine quoted him inaccurately, prompting him to ask its editor to remove the comments. On Feb. 22, The Washington Examiner ran an editorial with the headline “Obama Selects a Voice of Radical Islam.”

Muslim leaders watched carefully as the story migrated to Fox News. They had grown accustomed to close scrutiny, many said in interviews, but were nonetheless surprised. In 2008, Mr. Hussain had co-authored a paper for the Brookings Institution arguing that the government should use the peaceful teachings of Islam to fight terrorism.

“Rashad Hussain is about as squeaky clean as you get,” said Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who is Muslim. Mr. Ellison and others wondered whether the administration would buckle under the pressure and were relieved when the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, defended Mr. Hussain.

“The fact that the president and the administration have appointed Muslims to positions and have stood by them when they’ve been attacked is the best we can hope for,” said Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America.

It was notably different during Mr. Obama’s run for office. In June 2008, volunteers of his campaign barred two Muslim women in headscarves from appearing behind Mr. Obama at a rally in Detroit, eliciting widespread criticism. The campaign promptly recruited Mazen Asbahi, a 36-year-old corporate lawyer and popular Muslim activist from Chicago, to become its liaison to Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Bloggers began researching Mr. Asbahi’s background. For a brief time in 2000, he had sat on the board of an Islamic investment fund, along with Sheikh Jamal Said, a Chicago imam who was later named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land case. Mr. Asbahi said in an interview that he had left the board after three weeks because he wanted no association with the imam.

Shortly after his appointment to the Obama campaign, Mr. Asbahi said, a Wall Street Journal reporter began asking questions about his connection to the imam. Campaign officials became concerned that news coverage would give critics ammunition to link the imam to Mr. Obama, Mr. Asbahi recalled. On their recommendation, Mr. Asbahi agreed to resign from the campaign, he said.

He is still unsettled by the power of his detractors. “To be in the midst of this campaign of change and hope and to have it stripped away over nothing,” he said. “It hurts.”

From the moment Mr. Obama took office, he seemed eager to change the tenor of America’s relationship with Muslims worldwide. He gave his first interview to Al Arabiya, the Arabic-language television station based in Dubai. Muslims cautiously welcomed his ban on torture and his pledge to close Guantánamo within a year.

In his Cairo address, he laid out his vision for “a new beginning” with Muslims: while America would continue to fight terrorism, he said, terrorism would no longer define America’s approach to Muslims.

Back at home, Muslim and Arab-American leaders remained skeptical. But they took note when, a few weeks later, Mohamed Magid, a prominent imam from Sterling, Va., and Rami Nashashibi, a Muslim activist from Chicago, joined the president at a White-House meeting about fatherhood. Also that month, Dr. Faisal Qazi, a board member of American Muslim Health Professionals, began meeting with administration officials to discuss health care reform.

The invitations were aimed at expanding the government’s relationship with Muslims and Arab-Americans to areas beyond security, said Mr. Hussain, the White House’s special envoy. Mr. Hussain began advising the president on issues related to Islam after joining the White House counsel’s office in January 2009. He helped draft Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech and accompanied him on the trip. “The president realizes that you cannot engage one-fourth of the world’s population based on the erroneous beliefs of a fringe few,” Mr. Hussain said.

Other government offices followed the lead of the White House. In October, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke met with Arab-Americans and Muslims in Dearborn, Mich., to discuss challenges facing small-business owners. Also last fall, Farah Pandith was sworn in as the State Department’s first special representative to Muslim communities. While Ms. Pandith works mostly with Muslims abroad, she said she had also consulted with American Muslims because Mrs. Clinton believes “they can add value overseas.”

Despite this, American actions abroad — including civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and the failure to close Guantánamo — have drawn the anger of Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Even though their involvement with the administration has broadened, they remain most concerned about security-related policies. In January, when the Department of Homeland Security hosted a two-day meeting with Muslim, Arab-American, South Asian and Sikh leaders, the group expressed concern about the emergency directive subjecting passengers from a group of Muslim countries to additional screening.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, pointed out that the policy would never have caught the attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid, who is British. “It almost sends the signal that the government is going to treat nationals of powerless countries differently from countries that are powerful,” Ms. Khera recalled saying as community leaders around the table nodded their heads.

Ms. Napolitano, who sat with the group for more than an hour, committed to meeting with them more frequently. Ms. Khera said she left feeling somewhat hopeful.

“I think our message is finally starting to get through,” she said.

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