Osama Bin Laden dead: Muslim burial traditions upheld, possibly at sea
The decision has been made to respect Muslim tradition in burying the body of the most wanted man on earth. A senior administration official tells ABC News, "We are ensuring it is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition. It's something we take seriously and therefore it's being handled in an appropriate manner."
Islamic law dictates that the body be bathed three times in a specific, ritualistic manner, while covered by a cloth. The bathers are generally same-gender family members of the deceased, though this clearly will not be the case for the body in question.
After bathing, the body is wrapped in a kafan - generally a white cotton cloth, to protect the modesty of the deceased. Prayers are then said to request forgiveness for the dead.
Burial customs vary by region, but it is tradition for the body to be buried the same day as death. In this case, Bin Laden's body is expected to be buried by 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon, before sundown.
Traditionally the body is buried in the ground without a casket, with a grave marker that does not rise more than 12 inches above the ground. However, U.S. officials say that Bin Laden is expected to be buried at sea to prevent his gravesite becoming a shrine and to discourage vandalism and grave desecration. This adheres with Islamic tradition, as there is a stipulation that if it is likely that an enemy may try to dig up the grave or destroy the gravesite, burial at sea -- while not ideal -- is allowed.
As Bin Laden was a citizen of Saudi Arabia, the Saudis will be offered the opportunity to take custody of the body. They may not accept it.
[UPDATE]: CNN reports as of 3:20 am EST that Bin Laden's body has already been buried at sea. While surprising for most Americans, this adheres to Islamic tradition as the body has been buried within 24 hours of death.