- As with many aspects of daily life, you may find differing opinions among Muslims on the topic of tattoos.
- The majority of Muslims consider permanent tattoos to be haram (forbidden), based on hadith (oral traditions) of the prophet Muhammad.
- The details provided in hadith help to understand the traditions relevant to tattoos as well as other forms of body art.
Tattoos Are Forbidden by Tradition
Scholars and individuals who believe that all permanent tattoos are forbidden base this opinion on the following hadith, recorded in the Sahih Bukhari (a written, and sacred, collection of hadith):
“It was narrated that Abu Juhayfah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: ‘The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) cursed the one who does tattoos and the one who has a tattoo done.’ “
Although the reasons for the prohibition are not mentioned in the Sahih Bukhari, scholars have outlined various possibilities and arguments:
- Tattooing is considered mutilating the body, thus changing Allah’s creation
- The process of getting a tattoo inflicts unnecessary pain and introduces the possibility of infection
- Tattoos cover the natural body and are, therefore, a form of “deception”
Also, non-believers often adorn themselves this way, so getting tattoos is a form or imitating the kuffar (non-believers).
Some Body Alterations Are Allowed
Others, however, question how far these arguments can be taken. Adhering to the previous arguments would mean that any form of body modification would be banned according to hadith. They ask: Is it changing God’s creation to pierce your ears? Dye your hair? Get orthodontic braces on your teeth? Wear colored contact lenses? Have rhinoplasty? Get a tan (or use whitening cream)?
Most Islamic scholars would say that it is permissible for women to wear jewelry (thus it’s acceptable for women to pierce their ears). Elective procedures are allowed when done for medical reasons (such as getting braces or having rhinoplasty). And as long as it’s not permanent, you can beautify your body through tanning or wearing colored contacts, for example. But damaging the body permanently for a vain reason is considered haram.
Muslims only pray when they are in a ritual state of purity, free from any physical impurities or uncleanliness. To this end, wudu (ritual ablutions) are necessary before each formal prayer if one is to be in a state of purity. During ablution, a Muslim washes the parts of the body that are generally exposed to dirt and grime. The presence of a permanent tattoo does not invalidate one’s wudu, as the tattoo is under your skin and does not prevent water from reaching your skin.
Non-permanent tattoos, such as henna stains or stick-on tattoos, are generally permitted by scholars in Islam, provided they do not contain inappropriate images. Additionally, all of your prior actions are forgiven once you have converted and fully embraced Islam. Therefore, if you had a tattoo before becoming a Muslim, you are not required to remove it.