Following Fox News’ recent interest in the ‘deep love’ that is intrinsically hidden at the heart of Shias getting tattoos, it really begs the question, what is Islamic and cultural perspective on getting one?
So what is the deal with tattoos anyway? Fox News suggests that for some people, it is a way that people respond to the pressures of war and daily issues. On a cultural level, many people get tattoos for very personal reasons, either to remember a loved one, showing their political and religious affiliations, and many other reasons that fall under such a wide spectrum.
For some, the idea is that “There’s something about the impermanence of life these days that makes it necessary to etch ink into our skins. It reminds us that we’ve been marked by the world, that we’re still alive. That we’ll never forget.” [Tahereh Mafi, Unravel Me]
Islamically, there’s a difference between the opinions on the permissibility of getting a tattoo.
The Sunni school of thought follows the belief mentioned in a hadith, suggesting that “the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) cursed the one who does tattoos, the one who has a tattoo done.” [Bukhari].
Conversely, scholars from the Shia school of thought are generally accepting of it and see no issue with both the one getting the tattoo and the one inking them. For example, Sayed Ali Sistani suggests that, “tattoos are permissible irrespective of whether they are permanent or temporary.” and Sayyid Ali Khamenei, in Practical Laws of Islam, ruling 1220 answered a question about the permissibility of tattoos and said: “Tattooing is not haram.”
That being said, the main issue that stems from getting a tattoo is before all else, the permanence of obtaining one, and the belief that it causes you to alter the creation of Allah (swt). This begs the question, how does that then differ from dyeing ones hair, getting piercings, tanning, braces, amongst other things which all technically change the way in which a person looks? While these are not permanent when done, they can lead to the permanent alteration in pigmentation and the body in general.
Another issue is the said unnecessary infliction of pain, which is also considered to be prohibited by some.
To this, I would like to mention that a majority of tattoo artists would rub the area with numbing lotion that prevents you from feeling anything. It also differs based on the area in which you consider placing it, and your own pain threshold. With this, there are a good many things that people do which cause pain to the body such as waxing, threading and piercings, none of which are considered to be forbidden.
Further to this, the popular belief is that a tattoo prevents water from reaching the skin, thus preventing taharah, or ritual purity, necessary for wudhu. This is incorrect as when getting a tattoo, the ink is deposited below several layers of skin, and so it does not prevent water from reaching the skin.