No Funeral?

Does Tamerlan Tsarnaev deserve a funeral?

JimCoffinBy James Coffin

Yesterday (April 21, 2013) I read two unrelated internet articles that melded together in my mind. One speculated about the feelings doctors might have about providing medical care to a “public enemy.” The lead-in blurb mused: “What’s a good doctor to do when a villain hobbles into the emergency room? Kent Sepkowitz on the human obligation to treat everyone. Even Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.”

“There is no moral dilemma,” one commenter responded. “Patient hits the door of the Emergency Room, patient gets treated. Period. End of discussion. There is no philosophizing, no angst. Everyone gets the best care possible, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.” I agree.

The second article was headlined: “Tamerlan Tsarnaev, suspected Boston Bomber, may not get Islamic funeral from wary Muslims.” A wide range of opinions were voiced concerning whether clergy should provide a religious funeral for someone who has committed Tsarnaev’s alleged atrocities.

One thing for sure, it’s a no-win situation for the Muslims. If they provide a proper burial and full religious rites, they’ll be accused of supporting extremism. Yet if they refuse, they’ll be labelled a heartless, graceless religion.

I know nothing firsthand about the rituals, liturgy and general emphasis of a Muslim funeral. But I do know from having attended or officiated at many Christian funerals that, irrespective of how much the focus may be on the deceased’s transition from this life, a major part of the exercise, directly or indirectly, is to bring comfort and a degree of finality to the living.

No matter how villainous a person may have been, he or she is someone’s son or daughter, sister or brother, mother or father, friend or neighbor. Even in the case of bad people, the survivors typically look to the spiritual community to help them process what has happened and the reality of their loved one’s death.

I think we should leave it with the Muslims to proceed in whatever way they feel is most appropriate in this case, granted the highly complex web of circumstances they’re dealing with.

However, it’s worth noting that, if the medical community can (quite appropriately, I believe) remain free from condemnation despite being committed to heal even humanity’s worst, then we surely shouldn’t condemn the spiritual community when it seeks to bring healing to those whose lives have been deeply affected by years of contact with a deceased person of questionable character–yet who’s someone doctors would have been expected to treat without hesitation or reservation.

James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.