Tattooing, which is the practice of marking the skin permanently with designs and patterns, is an ancient practice. It is known from both historical and archaeological evidence that it was a custom practiced by Indigenous cultures, prevalent throughout the world in antiquity including pre-Islamic Arabia.1 Many Muslim scholars, particularly from Sunni jurisprudential schools, state that having a tattoo is impermissible in Islam.2 The following three arguments are typically advanced for the impermissibility of tattooing the skin:
- Although the Quran does not specifically mention anything about tattooing the skin, it does admonish those who change the creation of Allah.3 Some Muslim scholars argue that tattoos constitute changing Allah’s creation and therefore are prohibited. However, there are numerous practices commonly engaged in that involve making changes to the human body, which Muslim scholars do not find reprehensible. For example, many people use orthodontic braces, which can also involve removing teeth if the mouth is overcrowded, to straighten crooked teeth. Although this involves making a permanent change, often without any medical necessity, Muslim scholars deem it permissible. As such, it is possible to argue that it is not sufficient to rely on the verses of the Quran prohibiting altering Allah’s creation alone to rule on the prohibition of tattooing.
- Within the Sunni corpus, there are hadith that address the status of tattooing. For example, it is reported, “The Messenger of Allah has cursed the tattooer and the one who is tattooed.”4 This narration has to be understood in accordance with the context and the way which tattooing was practiced during the period of jahilliya (ignorance). During that time tattoos were sometimes used as a part of religious rituals whereby people tattooed images of their deities and idols on their faces, hands, and chests. These images used by the pagans contrived the basic teaching of Islam of the Oneness of Allah (tawhid).5 Therefore, it is possible that the hadith were referring to the practices of shirk (polytheism) or prevalent practices such as branding slaves and criminals as opposed to tattooing in itself. This is possible as there are also reports of Muslims who had tattooed the skin. The historian, Al-Tabari mentions that the hands of Asma bint Umais, who married three famous companions of the Prophet, were tattooed.6 Additionally Western scholars have pointed to the difficulty in interpretation of such texts and determining whether they are actually referring to tattooing with needles and ink or to the practice of branding and marking using hot iron.7 It is important to note that such hadith cannot be found within the Shia corpus and as a result Shia scholars are far more permissive with regards to tattooing the skin.8 This is because in the absence of any hadith forbidding the practice, it is possible to refer to the general ‘principle of permissibility’ according to which everything is allowed unless it has been prohibited. Additionally, there is also a principle that states that people are autonomous over their bodies, property, and wealth.
- The final reason advanced against tattooing is the severe pain that it can cause which can be both physically and mentally harmful. It is clear from the Quran that it is not permitted to cause harm to oneself without a valid reason.9 Here it is necessary to appreciate that the methods of tattooing have changed greatly over the years. Safety practices have also significantly improved using specially crafted needles in sterile environments to reduce the risk of infections and only those ingredients deemed safe to inject into the skin are used. Thus, if the temporary pain can be withstood by an individual it does not reach the level of harm that is prohibited in Islam.
It can be concluded that tattooing the skin is not prohibited in itself, provided that it does not constitute shirk or indecency.
 Deter-Wolf, Aaron; Robitaille, Benoît; Krutak, Lars; Galliot, Sébastien (February 2016). "The World's Oldest Tattoos” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 5: 19–24.
 See Larsson, G. (2011). Islam and tattooing: an old question, a new research topic. Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 23, 237-256; Yusuf al-Qardawi, Al-Halal wa al-Haram fi al-Islam
 “I will certainly mislead them and delude them with empty hopes. Also, I will order them and they will slit the ears of cattle and alter Allah’s creation.” And whoever takes Satan as a guardian instead of Allah has certainly suffered a tremendous loss. (4:119)
 Al-Bukhari, Hadith no 5933; Abu Dawud, Hadith no 4170.
 Al-Masudi, Muruj al-Dhahab, vol. 1, chapter "Traditions of Arab before Islam”; Mahmud bin Abdullah Alusi, Bulugh al-arb, vol. 1, chapter, the era of Jahiliyyah; Yusuf al-Qardawi, Al-Halal wa al-Haram fi al-Islam, p88
 al-Ṭabarī 1993: 146–7
 Jones, C. P. 1987 Stigma: Tattooing and branding in Graeco-Roman antiquity. The Journal of Roman Studies 77: 139–55; Larsson, G. (2011). Islam and tattooing.
 Spend in God’s cause: do not contribute to your destruction with your own hands, but do good, for God loves those who do good. (2:195)