Osama bin Laden's burial at sea by the U.S. government has spurred worldwide debate among Islamic leaders and scholars: Did officials follow Islamic tradition in handling the body before and during burial, as they contend?
Experts' responses vary as widely as the interpretations among followers of any faith. Some saw the burial as an appropriate option; others decried it as an unacceptable way to treat a body of a Muslim, regardless of his actions in life.
Still, there are some basic customs and practices of Islamic burial commonly followed, according to Muslim clerics who discussed them with The Associated Press:
_ The preference is always for bodies to be buried on land, but custom allows for sea burials if someone dies on a ship and there is no way to quickly get the body to land.
_ The body must be buried within 24 hours to honor the Prophet Muhammad, and should not be cremated or embalmed.
_ In the grave, the head should be pointed toward the holy city of Mecca in preparation for judgment day.
_ Before burial, the body needs to be ritually washed from top to bottom and dried. The process is meant to honor God, or Allah.
"Allah created the body and we have to respect the body as though the air and blood is still going through it _ that's the vessel that held the spirit of the human being," said Abdullah Bey El-Amin, a Detroit imam and president of a company that provides funeral products and services.
_ After the washing, custom calls for the body to be wrapped in three pieces of cloth for men, five pieces for women.
_ The funeral service at a mosque or elsewhere should include a special burial prayer with four parts to glorify God, and reading of the first chapter of the Quran.
The bottom line is "we should not insult the body of any person when he is dead," said Ahmad Sakr, president of the Foundation of Islamic Knowledge and director of the Islamic Education Center in Walnut, Calif.
"There are rules and regulations for burial, whether he's a practicing Muslim or a lazy Muslim," Sakr said.
President Barack Obama said bin Laden's remains had been handled in accordance with custom, which requires speedy burial, and the Pentagon later said the body was sunk the waters of the northern Arabian Sea after adhering to traditional Islamic procedures _ including washing the corpse _ aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.
A U.S. official said the burial decision was made after concluding that it would have been difficult to find a country willing to accept bin Laden's remains. There was also concern that a grave site could have become a rallying point for militants.
Some prominent Muslim clerics in the Middle East have suggested that the burial at sea could be interpreted by some Muslims as an insult and invite retribution.