Is it permissible to have a tattoo done? Is it necessary to remove the tattoo? Do tattoos harm ghusl, wudu and other worships?

Details of the Question

Is it permissible to have tattoos done on the hands, face and other parts of the body?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Tattoo means permanent figure made on the human skin with some paint.

People have had tattos done on different parts of their bodies for a very long time. Today, this custom is maintained in some places. While some young people in Europe and the US do it as an 'ornament', some irresponsible young people who live in Islamic countries imitate them, too. The Arabs of Jahiliyya/Ignorance had tattoos done to smarten themselves up; at the same time, they believed that their joints became stronger with the various shapes and pictures that they had tattooed on their bodies. Today, however, this does not go beyond the desire to imitate.

Primitive tattoo is generally made by making small holes side by side in the skin and filling them with colored substances like soot, kohl, henna, indigo etc. Some tattoos are made by making deep slits with a knife or nail; there also tattoos made by smearing burning substances like gunpowder on the skin to be decorated and burning that part.

Modern tattooists use specially produced electric tattoo pens and they apply local anesthesia so that the person will not feel any pains. 

The primitive tattoos were usually blue but modern tattoos are colored like paintings since they use various synthetic dyes.

Divine religions prohibited tattoos. The Torah mentions tattooing with ripping one's face through nails while crying after a death person and forbad both deeds:

"Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves." (Leviticus, 19/28)

The tattoo, which is expressed as "washm" in Arabic, was common especially among women during the time of the prophet as a practice of the Era of Ignorance.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) disapproved any changes to be made on the natural appearance of humans who were created in the best form and thus forbade such practices including the tattoo. He stated that Allah damned women who tattooed others and had their bodies tattooed. When a doer of a deed is damned by Allah, it means that deed is haram. (see, Bukhari, Libas, 87; Muslim, Libas, 119-120)

The reason why only women are mentioned in the hadith texts is that tattooing were practiced mostly by women in the Arabic society as it is the case today. There is no difference between men and women in terms of the religious decree about tattooing.

- What should the one who had tattoos done on his/her body do?

Imam Nawawi says that the tattoo must be removed from the body if removing does not harm the person in terms of health. A person is redeemed from the sin by repenting if the operation harms the body and leaves an ugly appearance. (Sharh Muslim, XIV, 106)

Here, the decree changes depending on the material that was used while tattooing. If the materials are among the things that are accepted as 'najis' (dirty) by religion, the tattoo is similarly dirty. If they are clean, then the tattoo is also clean. The thing to do here is to remove it if it is possible with a minor intervention or operation. If it is not possible to remove the tattoo , it is left as it is. This is because Allah does not burden His slave with a burden he cannot bear and does not ask him to do the things he cannot undertake.

- Do tattoos harm wudu and ghusl?

The tattoo is under the skin. In other words, it is under the outer skin. In ablution (wudu) and ghusl, however, it is fardh (obligatory) to cleanse the surface of the skin, not the part under it. As tattoo is under the skin, its presence on any part of the body does not invalidate ablution and ghusl. Ablution and ghusl become sound and valid when the surface on the tattoo is washed.

Besides, tattoos do not prevent performing prayers, worshipping, going to mosque and reading the Quran.

Somebody who committed such a sin without knowing should ask Allah for forgiveness and repent; and may his repentance be accepted, Allah willing.

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