CAIRO The head of Egypt's prestigious seat of Sunni Muslim learning, al-Azhar, condemned U.S. troops' disposal of the body of Osama bin Laden at sea Monday as an affront to religious and human values.
Muslims set great store by interment in permanent graves on land and accept burial at sea only in cases where the body cannot be preserved intact aboard ship until it reaches shore.
"The Grand Imam, Dr Ahmed El-Tayeb, the sheikh of Al-Azhar condemned the reports, if true, of the throwing of the body of Osama bin Laden into the sea," according to a statement released by al-Azhar, which is respected around the world by many Sunni Muslims as a seat of religious learning.
The procedure "contradicts all the religious values and human norms," it said: "The Grand Imam asserted that it is forbidden in Islam to deform the dead, regardless of their beliefs. One honors the dead by burying them."
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said bin Laden's body was dropped into the sea from the deck of an aircraft carrier after troops killed the al Qaeda leader in Pakistan. One said this was done to prevent his grave becoming a shrine. Another said Islamic customs had been respected.
A prominent Egyptian Islamist lawyer also condemned the U.S. move and said bin Laden should have been buried in his native Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally and home to Islam's holiest sites.
"Isn't it enough that they killed him and displayed their joy to the world?" Montasser al-Zayat told Al Jazeera television. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a moral obligation to demand that it bury Osama on its land."
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; editing by Alastair Macdonald)