Answer: 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, based on an oral tradition (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad. One would need to look at the details of this tradition in order to evaluate its validity and relevance to tattoos and other forms of body art as they are known today.
The scholars and individuals who believe all permanent tattoos to be forbidden base this opinion on the following hadith, recorded by Bukhari: "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, scholars have outlined various possibilities and arguments:
- Tattooing is considered "mutilating" the body, changing Allah's creation
- It inflicts unnecessary pain, and introduces the possibility of infection
- It covers the natural body, and is therefore a form of "deception"
- Non-believers often adorn themselves this way, so it is "imitating the kuffar"
Most scholars would say that it is permissible for women to wear jewelry (thus it's acceptable for women to pierce the ears). Elective procedures are allowed when done for medical benefit (braces, rhinoplasty, etc.). And as long as it's not permanent, one may beautify the body (tanning, colored contacts, etc.) But damaging the body permanently for a vain reason is considered haram.
A few additional points to consider:
- The presence of a permanent tattoo does not invalidate one's wud'u, as the tattoo is under the skin and does not prevent water from reaching the skin.
- Non-permanent tattoos (i.e. henna stains, stick-on tattoos, etc.) are universally permitted by all scholars in Islam, provided they do not contain inappropriate images.
- All actions prior to Islam are forgiven once a person has embraced Islam. Therefore, if one had a tattoo before becoming a Muslim, it is not necessary to have it removed.
- Laser removal of tattoos is an option, but may not be successful in all cases.