Excommunicating Dead Terrorists

Recently the Muslim Council of India sent an important message to the world’s Muslims. It asked one of the country’s … Continued

Recently the Muslim Council of India sent an important message to the
world’s Muslims. It asked one of the country’s largest Muslim graveyards,
Marine Lines Bada Qabrastan, where unclaimed bodies are often interred, to
deny burial rites to the nine men who died after terrorizing Mumbai.
Refusal to bury the terrorists in a Muslim cemetery signifies not just
that terrorist attacks are un-Islamic, a contention often heard, but that
their perpetrators become, by carrying these acts, non-Muslim. “They
cannot be Muslims or followers of Islam,” declared Muslim Council
president Ibrahim Tai, “so they cannot have a final resting place anywhere
on sacred Mother India.”

The question then arises, what should India do with the dead bodies?

Options range from repatriating the terrorists to Pakistan, where
apparently they were trained, to dumping the corpses at sea, naked, and
far from India’s shores. The Muslim Council has said it does not care what
happens to them, as long as they are disposed of outside of India.

Ordinarily, Muslims hasten to bury the dead as soon as possible after the
moment of death. But in this case the bodies of the nine terrorists will
remain in a Mumbai morgue until the government can reach a decision on
what to do, and that may take some time. (Mateen Hafeez, the reporter who
broke the story for the “Times of India,” wrote to me that several weeks
could easily pass before the Mumbai police takes action, in consultation
with the Ministries of External and Home Affairs. Legal hurdles may well
emerge, if relatives claim the bodies or if religious organizations
contest the deceased men’s right to cremation or burial.) Meanwhile
Indians are engaged in a riveting debate on whether to treat the corpses
with dignity–or not. It is, in fact, very important to think this matter

A failure to handle the bodies properly might exacerbate tensions between
India and Pakistan, and lead to Muslim-Hindu acrimony. Yet the government
cannot just leave the dead for eternity in the Sir J.J. Hospital mortuary.
It must act soon and decisively, so as not to squander a precious
opportunity to make a powerful symbolic statement against terrorism.

Shipping the bodies to Pakistan may seem like a good idea, a way to say to
that country, “Here, deal with your terrorists.” But Pakistan might well
grant the terrorists a Muslim burial, Indians would become furious, and
foreign relations between the countries would further deteriorate.

Another option for the Muslim Council to entertain is a symbolic inversion
of Islamic death rituals. Normally, Muslims who die an ordinary death are
wrapped in shrouds, which envelop the entire body; they are deposited in
the grave on their right side and facing Mecca, the direction of Muslim
prayers; and ideally a community of forty or more Muslims gathers to
intercede with God on their behalf. Martyrs undergo different treatment.
According to the Shari’a they should be buried in the battlefield in
whatever clothes they were wearing at the time of death, with dirt,
bloodstains, and all. They need no funerary prayer to enjoy the afterlife.
Martyrdom alone guarantees their salvation. Terrorists would rejoice at
the prospect of burial outside of a Muslim cemetery, in their old clothes,
without a prayer, for such a fashion of corpse disposal actually resembles
what Islamic law prescribes for martyrs.

Why not bury the dead only in yellow underwear, leaving the body
shamefully exposed? In the grave, the corpse can be contorted and made to
face away from Mecca, because that posture is considered a sign of eternal
damnation, a sign that the dead will be tortured in the grave and perhaps
refused entry into Paradise. Forty or more Muslims would then gather at
the graveside, not to intercede on behalf of the terrorists, but against
them. According to an authoritative Islamic tradition, Muslims act as
“God’s witnesses on earth.” When they choose to disparage, rather than to
pray, for wicked persons, Hell-Fire will be their certain destination.

But there exist risks in carrying out a cathartic fantasy that would
strike everyone as bizarre, merciless and inhumane.

Cremating the dead and scattering the ashes in international waters, as
Israel did after executing Adolf Eichmann in 1962, is the best option.
Because Islamic law opposes cremation for Muslims, who believe in the
physical resurrection of the body, incineration alone would signify a
non-Muslim way of disposing of the dead. The ritual would have special
significance for India’s Muslims, who know that the country’s Hindus,
Jains, and Buddhists favor this form of corpse disposal. Depositing the
ashes at sea would prevent the establishment of a memorial for the
deceased, and it would convey the view that terrorism is an international

There is a potential obstacle, however. The Shari’a recommends burial in
the earth for unclaimed bodies, of Muslims and others. Consequently,
individual Muslims have already begun warning, and circulating petitions,
against incineration. Yet the Shari’a allows non-Muslims to carry out
their own death rites, in accordance with their own religious laws. If
Indian Muslims can agree, then, that the terrorists died as non-Muslims
and that burning their bodies is the optimal solution, they simply need to
urge the government to dispatch the corpses to the crematorium after
ruling on their lack of religion.

Cremation would neither shame the bodies of dead terrorists, nor haunt the
minds of would-be terrorists, as powerfully as would a symbolic inversion
of standard Muslim rites. But it would convey an effective, reasonable and
humanistic message to the world: that a Muslim who commits terrorism dies
excommunicated, as an infidel.

Leor Halevi, professor of history at Vanderbilt University and
winner of the 2008 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for his book, “Muhammad’s
Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society.”

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  • dmvarisco

    As the author notes, the Mumbai terrorist attack carries a symbolism far beyond the actual event. In this case the perpetrators’ bodies currently in the morgue are in a postmodern barzakh, but Halevi is right to look at the issue from a historical perspective. Rather than have the state make a decision (like cremation) that might further embroil the fragile relations, why does the government not hand over the bodies to an official institution of the Indian Muslim community and let them decide how best to bury the remains? The question of whether they died as martyrs or infidels can only be decided by those within the faith, no matter what we on the outside would hope to be the decision. It would be interesting to compare how the bodies of Sikh, Tamil and Hindu terrorists have been handled by government authorities.

  • ScottChallenger

    It’s no wonder religion is the most destructive force on the face of the earth. Worse than any army, any weapon, any disease. You want to excommunicate the dead? This will be just as effective as playing Beatles albums backwards at mosques. Why not just outlaw religion? Wouldn’t this solve the problem? If there are not 30 virgins or some god to greet you and give you a massage, what’s there to die for?When all else fails – and evidence is everywhere that religion has completely failed mankind – then why not start over? Any book written by man (bible, koran, etc.) for the supposed benefit of man can be undone and rewritten by man.

  • MumboJumboo

    Israel the terror state:

  • ravitchn

    The Catholic Church never excommunicated Hitler, Himmler, Heydrich, Goebbels or the many other Catholic criminals, neither during nor after the war. The Irish Republic under Eamon DeValera even had a requium mass said for Hitler!

  • charleswright8

    How we treat the bodies has the potential to say more about ourselves rather than the dead. Perhaps then, a better question is: How do we treat the bodies in a way that reflects our higher Self.

  • mahaseer

    After you defeat your enemy, despise him. Feel no compassion, for compassion only weakens your own resolve Feed them to the pariah pigs.

  • James10

    ravitchn Author Profile Page:I’m not sure what your point here is other than crazy religions. Hitler was born into a Catholic family but didn’t practice Catholicism once he left home. With rare exception he referred to himself as a Christian rather than a Catholic. Which makes a lot of sense in a country that is primarily Lutheran. I don’t recall any instances where the Church excommunicates for “sin”. All the instances I can think of is when the authority of the Church is challenged. People don’t get excommunicated for murder or being a pedophile, but if a priest were to marry a gay couple, that challenges the authority of the Church. Hitler never challenged the authority of the Church. Ignoring the genocide. Hitler should not have received a Requiem Mass because he wasn’t a practicing Catholic. He absolutely shouldn’t have received a requiem mass because he committed suicide. The fact that he got a requiem mass only shows that some Catholic cleric broke the rules. Which was probably some kind of sin. My aunt told me that her father [my grandfather] was denied a Requiem Mass by a priest because her father hadn’t been tossing money into the collection plate. They had to scramble to another church to get him a Catholic burial. It’s a legitimate question for me, “Why would God care whether my grandfather got a Requiem Mass?” or Didn’t the priest read that part of the New Testament where Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple? or Where did this priest find this “rule” that you have to donate to his church to get a Requiem Mass?Crazy religions and crazy people.Does the ruling by the Islamic council of India affect the Islamic community. Probably as much as a ruling by a Lutheran Synod affects Christianity.

  • samchannar

    I say, take the bastards and throw them overboard in shark-infested sea. At least let their miserable lives get some meaning. Let the sharks have a meal. Please spare the nation the expenses of a national debate and disputed burial. Indians have already paid a high price.

  • donrus

    I would say the whole thing is silly because, frankly, who cares? But the point that paradise, virgins, and the honor of being a martyr are recruiting tools is a good one. In that case, I agree that body disposal should be done in a very unMuslim way (cremation and sea scattering of ashes) or better yet, by the Indian Muslim community that makes clear that these guys are not going to paradise and are repudiated by other Muslims. The fact that they are still on slabs is good…already they are not getting a proper Muslim burial. I guess you need to operate on the same level as the enemy. If they are going to prey on the ignorance of young men, then you need to show that their promises won’t work.The ultimate solution is to deal with the political and economic problems of a country that has never worked. It is galling for Pakistanis to look across the border at India, with a raucous but working economy and democracy. Same people, same geographic area, just a difference in political leadership. Their leadership is where they should be aiming their anger.

  • hfisher1

    How about sewing the dead terrorists into pigskin bags before burying them? That way, Allah will never have anything to do with them. Next stop, “hell.”

  • teplicky101

    Now, can mortals determine if a man who died goes to hell or not? By what authority? On the other hand, imagine the face of someone who has just blown himself and getting himself busy with all these promised virgins (there are some technicalities here that I am curious about but let’s not stray away) when security comes and send him to hell. Still, what does the Muslim heaven look like for a woman?

  • journeyer58

    Showing disrespect to the dead may be cathartic in many ways for the families of those affected by the massacres in Mumbai, but the overall effect will be to inflame the already tense situations that exist in India.

  • kglkgl06

    Don’t know if its a myth or not.. but GEN John Pershing reportedly had muslim fighters fed to pigs .. I sort of like it.. just dump them in a pig farm and let the pigs have at it.. a fitting end to them..

  • practica1

    Bury these people’s bodies quietly and decently in unmarked graves. Surely there are places this can be done?The same Almighty who made us out of dust and breath will have no trouble reassembling our bodies at the resurrection, whether they are embalmed, dismembered, buried, or rendered as ashes.Governments have no business either tampering with or promoting religious beliefs and practices. They should only establish a humane and impersonal standard for all, and then practice that.Next thing you know, we’ll have the LDS Church over there, posthumously baptizing terrorists and their victims.

  • arun1patel

    Islam is a religion of peace, and a lifetime devoted to the Qu’ran can never result in terrorism – so we cannot call these animals Muslims.India’s normal behavior would be to show the dead bodies respect, as if it were all a game of cricket, where you shake hands after the game. Kashmiri terrorists have exploited this by turning graves into motivational spots. In this case, the brutality of the attack has hardened Indian public opinion. However, I don’t think India should show the bodies disrespect either. Returning them to Pakistan would be a bad idea since they will be treated as heroes by many in Pakistan; in any case, Pakistan is denying the bodies are theirs, just like they did during the Kargil war in 1999. What a sad thing for an Army to have to reject their dead.The best solution may be a quiet burial at sea, just like disposing of garbage.

  • ResidentofUnitedStates

    calling terrorists are not muslims is a fallacy. in islam you cannot become an apostate. once you become a muslim you are a muslim.