TATTOOS IN ISLAM

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TATTOOS IN ISLAM

 

 

The issue of tattoos is with out a doubt one of the most controversial topics in Islamic circles and non-Islamic circles in the modern world today. This issue usually circulates in the world of the younger generation where tattoos have become a moral and an ethical question of whether one should put a tattoo on one’s body or not.

Let us begin to look at the historical background of tattoos and its spread around the world.


The Historical background of Tattoos

 

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Legend says that Yue Fei, a famous Chinese general during the Song dynasty, had a tattoo across his back that said “Repay the Country with Pure Loyalty” and that it was tattooed there by his mother.

The traditional male tattoo in Samoa is called the Pe’a. The traditional female tattoo is called the “Malu”. The word “Tattoo” is believed to have originated from the Samoan word “tatau” which means “tattoing”.

Tattooing is described as art and form of body modification where a needle of ink is inserted into the skin to change its color permanently. It’s a very old traditions and the tattooing itself has become more popular and socially acceptable than ever before. Especially in our modernized world today where it has become a trend in the western world.

Tattoos have also been considered to be acts of rebellion against the society, and especially when the Abrahamic religions were strong in many parts of the world. The other fact is that tattoos appeared in different parts of the world at the same time, when it came to its cultural importance and the wearing of tattoos as a fashionable trend in the society. Different styles and techniques of tattooing developed in places such as Japan, Samoa, China, Taiwan, Polynesia, Philippines, New Zealand and parts of Africa.

Ancient Egypt and India also used Tattoos as methods of healing and as methods of religious worship. Tattoos were also marks of a status in a society but also as a punishment. Tattoos were for example marks of the rank and accomplishments in The Philippines where people believed that they had magical properties through tattoos.

Ancient Egypt and India used tattoos as methods of healing and as methods of religious worship. They were also marks of a status in a society but also a punishment. Tattoos in Philippines were marks of the rank and accomplishments and people there believed that they have magical properties.

When Christianity appeared, tattooing was considered a barbaric tradition and it slowly faded away in Europe to return with transoceanic travels in the 16th century. Travelers like Sir Martin Frobisher, Captain James Cook and William Dampier brought home indigenous people from places they visited and these indigenous people were often tattooed. At that time and place, Tattooing was ” Reserved” for sailors and lower class citizens, but with the time, as tattoo artists became more and more proficient, tattooing became a hobby for the aristocrats who had the money to pay the professionals to make tattoos for them.

As the tattooing became cheaper, it became a symbol of the lower class again, and it stayed in this structure until the 1960s, when the hippie movement slowly entered the mainstream change from the Social deviance to an acceptable form of self-expression. It  also became so mainstream, that even the toy company Mattel started selling barbie dolls with tattoos.

The Practise of tattooing ( a processes of applying a tattoo on a skin) is very old. The oldest evidence that people tattooed each other, dates back to the Neolithic times (12 000 years ago). Ötzi the Iceman, a well preserved natural mummy from the 4th millennium BC (5000 years ago), in the Ötz valley in the Alps was found with carbon tattoos in the shapes of dots and lines. Mummy of Amunet from ancient Egypt and the mummies at Pazyryk on the Ukok plateau in southwestern Siberia were also found with tattoos on their bodies. Pre-Christian Germanic, Celtics and other tribes from northern and central Europe also had traditions of tattooing. The Picts ; a people who lived in eastern and northern Scotland were famous for their black and blue tattoos which represented their culture at that time.

There is also evidence that Pre-Christian Germanic, Celtic and other tribes from central and northern Europe also had traditions of tattooing. The Picts, peoples who lived in eastern and northern Scotland, were famous for their black and blue tattoos.

While other considered tattoos marks of pride, other saw them as barbaric. In Ancient Chine, The Prisoners would use tattoos on the face as a symbol of a criminal.  This tradition would continue until the 18th/19th century. Further than that, it did not prevent the culture of tattoos to spread and create meanings and purposes of itS own peculiar culture and geographical location.

In Egypt, tattoo were mainly worn by women and these tattoos represented their class, form of punishment and religious devotion as a method of healing.

Tattooing in the old world and Americas, became popular among sailors and they were methods of self-expression as much as a method of identification,in life as well as in death.

Throughout those historical, cultural, social and economic process, the tattoo has become a world of art in the world we live in today, throughout the whole world, from east to west, from north to south and in every society we can possible think of. [1]

 

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What do the world religions say about tattoos on a general level?

 

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Tattoos in Judaism

 

Orthodox Jews say that Tattoos are generally forbidden in Judaism, based on the Torah [Leviticus 19:28] : ” You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dear, nor incise any marks on your selves : I am the Lord”. [2]

The prohibition is explained by the contemporary rabbis as part of a general prohibition on body modification (except circumcision) that does not serve a medical purpose (such as to correct a deformity). Maimonides, A Jewish scholar that lived in the 12th-century, explained the prohibition against tattoos, as a Jewish response to paganism.

Conservative Jews point to the next verse of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 180:2): “If it [the tattoo] was done in the flesh of another, the one to whom it was done is blameless”.

This is used by them to say that tattooing yourself is different from obtaining a tattoo, and that the tattoo may be acceptable, while Orthodox Jews disagree, and that the text was referring to forced tattooing, as was done during the holocaust, which is not considered a violation of the Jewish law on the part of the victim.

Having a tattoo, does not prohibit the Jew to participate in Jewish rituals and one may be buried in a Jewish cemetery and participate fully in all synagogue activities.

Reform , modern and secular Jews neither condemn or condone tattooing.

The reason why Jews are reluctant to association themselves with tattoos, is because of the association of the tattoos they were forced to wear during the holocaust and the Nazi concentration camps.


Tattoos in Christianity

Some Christians take issue with tattooing, upholding the Hebrew prohibition (see below). The Hebrew prohibition is based on interpreting Leviticus 19:28—”Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you”,so as to prohibit tattoos, and perhaps even makeup. [3]

Interpretations vary, however, Some believe that it refers specifically to, and exclusively prohibits, an ancient form of self-mutilation during mourning, and especially when pagan religions used to practise self mutilation.

Others hold that the prohibition of Leviticus 19:28, regardless of its interpretation, is not binding upon Christians. Some Christians groups, such as the knights of Saint John of Malta, had tattoos to show their allegiance to the Christian Faith. However, Many Christians considered tribal tattooing to be an activity of paganism. 

Christian Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina started the culture of tattooing in south of Europe and especially for children, in order to protect them against the forced conversion and enslavement during the ottoman empire and the ottoman occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. [4]

Tattooing was also performed during Springtime or during special religious celebrations such as the feast of St. Joseph and the tattoos were often placed on fingers,hands,forearms, below the neck and on the chest.

Orthodox Coptic who live in Egypt commonly tattooed themselves with symbols of Coptic crosses on their right wrists, and and this activity still exists until today.

Mormons consider getting a tattoo to be discouraged but not sinful as it is altering. The reason why it is discouraged is because of the altering the creation of God.

Christianity-related tattoos are highly common among military veterans and born-again Christians (people that lived difficult lives and rediscovered spirituality).

Many Christians with Tattoos have psalm or verses from the bible tattooed on their body.


What does paganism say about tattoos?

 

Tattoos have always been allowed in the Polytheist religions. Whether it is Hinduism or other polytheistic / non-theistic religions. Tattoos are allowed culturally and religiously in Hinduism, although contemporary tattoos is uncommon among traditional Hindus. Historical roots date back to the practise of Mehndi using Henna. Henna by the way is more common in the Hindu world. Buddhism also seems to have no position against tattoos and has not made an issue of the the subject. [5]


What does Islam say about Tattoos?

 

The Swedish professor in religious studies, Göran Larsson states that there are both contemporary and historical examples, indicating that tattooing was practiced by certain Islamic Groups.

The classical Sunni scholar At-Tabari mentions in his ” History of the Prophets and Kinds that the hands of Asma bint Umais were tattooed. Muslims in Africa, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and west Pakistan have used tattoos for beautification. [6]

Tattooing customs have also existed among Egyptian Muslim Women. In a 1909 trip to Persia, Percy Stykes observed Shia Muslim women who had birds, Owers or gazelles tattoooed on their body. Verses from the Qur’an and Persian legends were also honoured with the tattooing of a lion on the arm.

An article, published in the journal Man : A record of anthropological science, author John Carswell documented that Sunni and Shia Muslims in Lebanon would get tattoos of the swords of Abu Bakr and Imam Ali (A) to distinguish themselves from one another. [7]

According to historians, Shoshana-Rose Marzel and Guy Stiebel, face tattoos were common among Muslim women until the 1950s but have since fallen out of fashion. Traditional Tunisian tattoos including suns, moon, stars were also a trend and a fashion in North Africa. Tattoos were also used during Ottoman Empire due to the influx of Algerian sailors in the 17th century. Bedouin and Kurdish women have a long tradition of tattoos. Tattoos are still common in some parts of the Muslim world, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, Algeria and Egypt. Tattoos are also very famous among the Youth in Iran and Turkey.

What I want to present is that tattoos exist in both Sunni and Shiite communities, and have existed before, during and after the the demise of Prophet Muhammad (S).


What does Sunni Islam and Shia Islam say about tattoos today?

 

In short, the majority of Sunni scholars say that it is forbidden, and Shia Muslim scholars say that it is allowed. but first, I will discuss the Sunni perspective.

Some Sunni Muslim scholars believe that tattooing is a sin because it involves changing the natural creation of God, inflicting unnecessary pain in the process. This is the mainstream of the reason why tattoos are Haram in Islam according to the Sunnis and from a Prophetic Hadith :

 

وَّلَاُضِلَّـنَّهُمۡ وَلَاُمَنِّيَنَّهُمۡ وَلَاٰمُرَنَّهُمۡ فَلَيُبَـتِّكُنَّ اٰذَانَ الۡاَنۡعَامِ وَلَاٰمُرَنَّهُمۡ فَلَيُغَيِّرُنَّ خَلۡقَ اللّٰهِ​ؕ وَمَنۡ يَّتَّخِذِ الشَّيۡطٰنَ وَلِيًّا مِّنۡ دُوۡنِ اللّٰهِ فَقَدۡ خَسِرَ خُسۡرَانًا مُّبِيۡنًا

 

And I will mislead them, and I will arouse in them [sinful] desires, and I will command them so they will slit the ears of cattle, and I will command them so they will change the creation of Allah .” And whoever takes Satan as an ally instead of Allah has certainly sustained a clear loss.

 

{4:119}

 

Narrated Ibn `Umar:

حَدَّثَنِي مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ مُقَاتِلٍ، أَخْبَرَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ، أَخْبَرَنَا عُبَيْدُ اللَّهِ، عَنْ نَافِعٍ، عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ ـ رضى الله عنهما ـ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏“‏ لَعَنَ اللَّهُ الْوَاصِلَةَ وَالْمُسْتَوْصِلَةَ، وَالْوَاشِمَةَ وَالْمُسْتَوْشِمَةَ ‏”‏‏.‏ قَالَ نَافِعٌ الْوَشْمُ فِي اللِّثَةِ‏.‏

God’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, ” God has cursed such a lady as lengthens (her or someone else’s) hair artificially or gets it lengthened, and also a lady who tattoos (herself or someone else) or gets herself tattooed”.

[Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 7, Book 72, Hadith 820, https://sunnah.com/bukhari/77/152]


Sunni Scholar are basically trying to connect the verse of {4:119} with this Hadith, that you are not allowed to change the creation of God, and that you are doing it when you are putting a tattoo (changing your appearance). but there is a problem.

 

When I go to the barbershop to get a haircut, am I not changing my creation/appearance?

When I trim my beard, Am I not changing my creation/appearance?

When you make a surgery, don’t you change your body?

 

Your body is changing constantly, and it does not matter if you change your body or if nature changes your body, your body and your appearance changes all the time.

Hair transplant in Arab and the western countries is very common, and both Men and women do them and, as I know, there are no scholars who have come out and banned them openly.

Secondly what does changing the creation of God really mean. Let the Holy Qur’an itself interpret the verse of {4:119} :

 

فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفًا ۚ فِطْرَتَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا ۚ لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. [Adhere to] the fitrah of Allah upon which He has created [all] people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah . That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know.

 

[30:30]

 

The creation of God does not mean the changing of one’s hair or skin, but rather it means that God wants you to direct yourself toward the religion of truth (Islam), and adhere to your Fitrah (your inner nature that tells you that there is a God and that God is the one and only God you have to worship), and that you SHOULD NOT change your FITRAH! and that this is the correct religion, while many Sunni scholars haven’t used the Tafsir of the Holy Qur’an itself!

So there is no connection at all between the Qur’anic verses and the Hadith about Tattooing, which I have proved. So now only the Hadith of tattooing remains to be examined.

This Hadith that the God’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, ” God has cursed such a lady as lengthens (her or someone else’s) hair artificially or gets it lengthened, and also a lady who tattoos (herself or someone else) or gets herself tattooed”, exist in both Sunni and Shia literature, but the understanding differs.

It’s not Haram to wear a wig in Islam, and that is very known. We can only see that this sentiment of wearing a wig being Haram in Islam, comes from the Salafi Scholars, and Khabib Nurmagomedov is in big trouble because of this.

 

So what does the Hadith of tattooing really mean?

 

Now it is very important to look at the context and the historical background. The Shia scholars have not forbidden tattoos, because there is no strong evidence in the verse itself, between the verse and the Hadith, and the Hadith in itself, and that the Hadith has been misinterpreted.

We need to look at the context, this is an argument by Shia Scholars: first, the Hadith is feminine, that is to say, it speaks of the ladies who artificially prolonged their hair and a tattoo lady (tattoo Artista) and a tattooed lady. First of all, it was widely known that the prostitutes of Arabia at that time used to use prolong their hair and used to be tattooed by a female tattoo Artista, and later used to beautify themselves in this way, and then perform their actions of prostitution.

On the other hand, there were women in Arabia who used to hide their scars and blemishes on the body if they had any, and they used to fix the hair artificially so it didn’t look natural, so that when a man would come to propose for them, so that it would look like they didn’t have any spots of disadvantages on their appearance. This is forbidden in Islam, to trick someone else in his or her appearance, in order to achieve their objectives.

Some Shafi’i scholars such as Amjad Rasheed argue that tattooing causes impurity and that tattoos were prohibited by the Prophet Muhammad. They also claim that those who are decorated with tattoos are contaminated with Najasah, due to potential mixture of blood and coloured pigment that remains upon the surface of the skin.

However again, in the present day, it is possible to get a tattoo without mixing dye with blood after it exits onto the outer surface of the body, leaving a possibility for a Muslim to wear a tattoo and perform a valid prayer.

The Muslim brotherhood Scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi states that tattoos are sinful because they are an expression of vanity and they alter the physical creation of God, again I have proved the point through verse {30:30} interpreting {4:119}.

 

What does Shia Islam say about Tattoos?

 

Shia scholars For example such as Ayatollahs Ali al-Sistani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Sayyed Muhammed Hussein FadlAllah believe there are no authoritative Islamic prohibitions on tattoos. The Qur’an does not mention tattoos or tattooing at all.

Sayyed Sadiq Hussaini Shirazi ruled: “Tattoos are considered Makruh (disliked and discouraged). However, it is not permissible to have Quranic verses, names of Ahlulbayt (a.s), drawings of Imams (a.s), Hadiths, unislamic and inappropriate images or the likes tattooed onto the body. And if the ink was the type that remains above the skin, then it would be considered prohibited. However, if it was of the type to go beneath the skin, it would be considered permissible but Makruh.” [8] 

Sayyed FadlAllah said the following : ”  The tattoo is not prohibited by itself, whether, for the man or for the woman. However, if the tattoo is considered an ornament that draws the attention, then, it is prohibited for the woman to mark it on her body parts (face, hands, and feet) which is not obligatory for her to cover. Also, the tattoo is prohibited in case it is marked on these parts with a thick material that covers the surface of the skin and thus, prevents water from passing on to the skin and makes the Wudhu, Ghusul, and prayer void. Anyway, it is better for the pious man/woman to leave such things because they do not fit our Islamic traditions and cultures.” [9]

Summary: The Shiite scholars do not forbid tattooing and that it is allowed to tattoo oneself but not anywhere on your body and whatever you want (such as verses of the Qur’an, Hadiths and Holy names such as the name of the Prophet (S) and Imam Ali (A) ), and that there is no verse or a Hadith that that prove the prohibition of tattoos for both men and women. However, tattooing is not something that The Shiite Scholars encourage people to do, rather it’s an individual choice.


[1] http://www.historyoftattoos.net/tattoo-history/history-of-tattooing/

[2] Leviticus 19:28

[3] “What does the Church Teach about Tattoos?”. Catholic.com

[4] Darko Zubrinic (1995), Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zagreb,  Darko Zubrinic. “Croats in BiH”. Croatianhistory.net. Retrieved August 3, 2012. 

[5]  “Earthtides Pagan Network News, Spring 2010” (PDF). Retrieved April 5, 2012.

[6] Larsson 2014, p. 237

[7] Larsson 2014, p. 245-246

[8] Al-Shirazi, Sayid Sadiq. “FAQ Topics: Tattoos”Ayatollah Sayid Sadiq Al-Shirazi. Retrieved 16 October 2017.

[9] http://english.bayynat.org.lb/Istiftaat/istiftaa_tattoo.htm


| Amir Zabidi <3

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