I have a tattoo on my back that I drew 10 years ago, should I remove it after I embraced Islam?
I am a woman who embraced Islam four months ago and I had a tattoo drawn across my back ten years ago. I have known recently that tattoo is prohibited in Islam. So what should I do about the tattoo I am having given that removing it would be very painful and expensive and it won’t appear to anyone but my husband?
Tattoo as a term has two meanings. The first of which is the process of stitching a needle into the skin until blood oozes out and then different kinds of dyes are placed in these opening wounds to penetrate through the body and remain there with no removal. The second meaning has to do with the result of this process which is the drawn tattoo.
Tattoos are prohibited in Islam according to the authentic traditions in which both the one who does tattoos and the one who draws them are cursed. Both al Bukhari and Muslim reported through ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar that the Prophet (peace be upon him) cursed the one who does tattoos, and the one who has a tattoo done.”
The scholar al Hafiz ibn Hajar said in his book (Fath al Bari) that having a tattoo is prohibited because it causes cursing and the tattooed spot of the body is deemed impure because the blood is clotted in it and therefore needs to be removed even if this causes an injury unless there is a fear of ruining or hurting an organ, only then it is permissible to keep the tattoo and repentance would suffice in lifting the sin and both men and women are equal in this issue.
Repentance in this issue suffices because this is one of God’s rights which can be forgiven by the virtue of embracing Islam as God’s rights are waived by the virtue of embracing Islam. It was reported by Imam Ahmad through ‘Amr ibn al ‘As that the Prophet said “embracing Islam waives what was before it”.
Imam al Qarafi in his book (al Furuq) differentiated between two kinds of rights. Rights which belong to God and rights which belong to human beings; when it comes to the rights of God, they are lifted by the virtue of embracing Islam because Islam is one of God’s rights. The Prophet said that “Islam covers up for what was done before it”. Therefore the new Muslim is not obliged to make up for prayers, zakat or any other forms of worship which he missed before becoming a Muslim. God is known for his bounty and mercy and thus His mercy matches His forgiveness. As for the rights of humans, it is known that the nature of human beings is weakness and greed and therefore they hold tight to their rights whereas God waived His rights out of compassion and mercy.
Therefore if the removal of tattoos will necessitate injuring the body or causing harm to it then it is disapproved to remove it. God says in the Quran, “And God wants to lighten for you [your difficulties]; and mankind was created weak”. (4:28) and He said, “Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship… “(2:185) and also, “He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty…”(22:78) and “God does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. It will have [the consequence of] what [good] it has gained,” (2:286)
As for praying while having these tattoos on, it is deemed permissible because it goes under forgiven impurity. Imam al Nafrawi al Maliki stated “If someone has a forbidden tattoo, he is not obliged to remove it with fire and it is rather a forgiven impurity and prayers are valid with having it” and fasting is deemed valid as well because it has nothing to do with having the tattoo on.