Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

The Religion of Tattoos

November 7th, 2008 by

This week I read a gut-churning article in a Malaysian newspaper that told of the truly gruesome and horrific lengths one local man – tattooed a decade ago in a drug rehabilitation center – went to remove his ink. Unable to afford the hefty price of laser tattoo removal and desperate to wipe his epidermic slate clean, the man turned instead to some sickening D.I.Y.

I’m talking an imported Thai chemically abrasive soap so harsh it shredded his skin like a cheese grater. I’m talking formic acid and hot metal that burned through his flesh almost to the bone.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the man did not succeed in removing any of his ten tattoos. Instead he added to his body a wide array of infections, sicknesses and permanent scars from which he will never recover. All of this of course begs the question: why would anyone – especially this man whose tattoos are inoffensive and easily covered with the most basic items of clothing – resort to such extremes, maiming his body in the process, in order to get rid of his ink?

One word. It’s one of the most universally recognizable words and definitely one of the most (if not the most) universally controversial topics of conversation. You know what it is. Say it with me now: Religion.

The abovementioned man had, since his time in rehab, converted to Islam – a religion whose Holy Qur’an condemns tattoos as inspired by Satan, who “…will command them (his devotees) to change what Allah has created…” (An-Nisa’: 119) Islamic law warns believers against modifying their physical features, denouncing such practices as an “unnecessary intrusion, alteration and defacement of Allah’s creation (re: your human body).” Throw in the fact that Allah’s messenger on earth, the Prophet Muhammad, is said to have cursed tattooists and tattooees alike and you can almost understand the poor Muslim man’s panic.

Tattooed devout Muslims aren’t the only ones scratching at their skin. The Holy Bible clearly lays out its stance on tattoos in Leviticus 19:28 “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” Judaism also invokes Leviticus 19:28 (the third book in the Torah) in its denouncement of tattoos, and declares our bodies to be “…precious gift(s) on loan from God…entrusted into our care and not our personal property to do with as we choose.” Contrarily, Hinduism and Buddhism seem to be decidedly undecided.

Can tattoos and religious belief inhabit one body? The phrases ‘God-given freewill’ and ‘unconditional love for all’ come to mind although I must admit that I, free from any religious association or inclination whatsoever (pray for me if you must), can not string those phrases together in any way definitive, convincing or coherent enough to answer my own question. But I can tell you this: In this modern age, society and religion are (arguably, I’m sure) increasingly tolerant.

Islam has decreed repentant tattooed Muslims forgiven and encourages said followers – not to try every method of tattoo removal – to just simply cover their tattoos up. An outspoken Catholic priest responded to an uneasy mother questioning the possible sinfulness of her 22-year-old daughter’s tattoo by saying that tattoos are not desecration or mutilation (since the definition of body mutilation is the destruction of normal bodily function) and are therefore no matter of morality but are, instead, mere issues of esthetics and economics. Rabbi Alan Lucas of the Jewish Rabbinical Assembly has said, “However distasteful we may find the practice there is no basis for restricting burial to Jews who violate this prohibition or even limiting their participation in synagogue ritual. The fact that someone may have violated the laws of kashrut at some point in his or her life or violated the laws of Shabbat would not merit such sanctions; the prohibition against tattooing is certainly no worse. It is only because of the permanent nature of the tattoo that the transgression is still visible.”

These modern conservative religions prohibit their devotees from heading to the local parlor but do not denounce their devotees who, for whatever reason, already have. And therein lies the answer. The powers that be – who or what ever they are – love and accept you AND your ink. So put down the abrasive soaps, chemicals and steel wool pads, zealots. If you’re still keen to get back into your original birthday suit then please – I beg of you – invest in laser removal performed by a reputable professional. Otherwise you run the risk of serious, irrevocable bodily mutilation far more horrible than any lapse-of-faith-and/or-judgment tattoo.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.