Marathon Bombing

Will Tamerlan Tsarnaev Get a Muslim Burial?

In Cambridge, mosque leaders are divided about how to handle the final rites for the bombing suspect—or if Islam means disavowing him altogether.

04.26.13 8:45 AM ET

Even Osama bin Laden was accorded the final rites prescribed by his avowed religion, courtesy of the U.S. government.

“Traditional procedure for Islamic burial was followed,” Rear Adm. Charles Gaouertte emailed regarding the 50-minute ceremony aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson that ended with burial at sea. “The deceased’s body was washed (ablution) then placed in a white sheet … A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker.”

So, it was surprising when NBC reported that one of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s aunts said the Boston Marathon bombing suspect had been denied a traditional burial by a local mosque. One of Tamerlan’s uncles requested the rite for his nephew, only to be refused, she said.

Yet the mosque in Cambridge where the Tsarnaev brothers sometimes worshipped said no one from the family had made such a request there. The mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston, does not have a regular imam, so it is difficult to say with certainty what transpired.

Perhaps the aunt simply misunderstood the uncle. Or perhaps the uncle had confused the Cambridge mosque with the similarly named Islamic Institute for Boston, where the imam has forthrightly stated that he would in fact deny the rite to Tamerlan—or anyone who is a murderer of innocents.

“People who do such things are not Muslim,” declared Imam Talal Eid. “That is what the Quran tells me.”

The 61-year-old cleric said the Quran further suggests Tamerlan’s punishment is only just beginning and will be eternal.

“Those who kill innocent people, they will be in hell fire for good,” Eid offers. “There is no chance of parole for them.”

Eid acknowledges that he finds it difficult to speak this way of someone who claims to be a member of his faith.

“But I have to stand for the truth,” he says. “This person is a murderer. He murder people in cold blood.”

Eid sees no justification for such killing.

“I don’t care about their intention or a noble cause,” he says. “A murderer is a murderer. “

He speaks as the son of a barber-cum-doctor from Lebanon who never answered angry words in kind.

“If someone yelling or something, he just smile in their face,” Eid says of his father. “Maybe I got it from him.”

BOSTON - APRIL 23: From left to right:  Shareda Hosein of Quincy, Hayfaa Ali of Roxbury, and Zaynah Qutubuddin of Cambridge, held candles during a vigil for the marathon bombing held at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Boston. (Photo by Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Aram Boghosian/The Boston Globe via Getty

A candlelight vigil for the Marathon bombing was held at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Boston on April 23, 2013.

At the father’s urging, Eid began his religious studies at 14. He became an imam in 1975 and arrived in Boston seven years later. He has performed for countless deserving souls the rites he so strongly feels should be denied Tamerlan.

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“The ritual has something to do with the soul, not the body,” Eid says. “There should be no honor of any kind for this person as a Muslim.”

Even so, Tamerlan’s family might very well find an imam willing to bury him in the Muslim way if they actually ask at the mosque in Cambridge. They certainly could if they contact the affiliated Islamic Society for Boston Cultural Center.

The imam there is Subaib Webb, formerly a Christian from Oklahoma and a onetime hip-hop DJ.

“When it was more hip than hop,” he notes, adding only half-jokingly, “My first imam was Rakim.”

Webb is of the view that as a working imam he is obligated to perform the burial rite for Tamerlan, just as the doctors at the emergency room were obligated to make every effort to save the bombing suspect’s life, no matter his deeds.

“We denounce the things he’s accused of,” Webb says. “We mourn as Bostonians.”

He is as forthright in his condemnation of the bombings as would, no doubt, those other doctors who successfully saved the younger Tsarnaev bother, Dzhokhar.

“I can’t find any justification,” Webb says.

But Webb is just as willing to do what he feels is required of him as an imam. The family only need ask him. He will respond as a coroner does when called to duty.

“The person who had to do the autopsy,” Webb says.

Meanwhile, Tamerlan’s mother in particular should stop suggesting that the police used excessive force. Tamerlan and his brother executed a cop as he sat in his car and then led other cops on a chase, throwing explosives at them and setting off a pressure-cooker bomb and firing 80 rounds. Police describe a moment that then came when Tamerlan either ran out for ammo or fumbled while reloading.

Nobody would have faulted the cops if they shot him. They instead further risked their lives by tackling him so as to avoid killing him. He might still be alive had Dzhokhar not run him over in what was either an attempt to escape or to kill the very cops who had just refrained from killing his bother. Maybe he was trying to do both.

Now that Tamerlan is dead, the only question is how to bury him.

Either way, washed and wrapped and prayed over or no, he goes to his grave as someone maybe not even God could forgive.