Religious perspectives on tattooing

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Religions have perspectives on tattooing.


The majority of Christians do not take issue with the practice, while a minority uphold the Hebrew view against tattoos (see below) based on Leviticus. Tattoos of Christian symbols are common. When on pilgrimage, some Christians get a small tattoo dating the year and a small cross. This is usually done on the chest.

Historically, a decline in traditional tribal tattooing in Europe occurred with the spread of Christianity.[citation needed] However, some Christian groups, such as the Knights of St. John of Malta, sported tattoos to show their allegiance. A decline often occurred in other cultures following European efforts to convert aboriginal and indigenous people to Western religious and cultural practices that held tattooing to be a "pagan" or "heathen" activity. Within some traditional indigenous cultures, tattooing takes place within the context of a rite of passage between adolescence and adulthood. Some cite Leviticus 19:28 as an interpretation that the Bible forbids tattoos.

Leviticus 19:28 is often cited by Christians as a verse prohibiting tattoos. According to the King James Version of the Bible, the verse states, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am LORD." While it may appear that the passage disallows any markings of the flesh, even applying to the modern-day use of tattoos, it is likely the passage refers specifically to the form of mourning discussed below (see Judaism section). Christians who believe that the religious doctrines of the Old Testament are superseded by the New Testament may still find explicit or implicit directives against tattooing in Christian scripture, in ecclesiastical law, or in church-originated social policy. Others who disapprove or approve of tattoos as a social phenomenon may cite other verses to make their point.

For example, Revelation 14:1 and 17:5 are cited as passages in which names are written on foreheads. In this case, however, it is possibly metaphorical as the language is prophetic.[1]

There is no prohibition against tattooing within the Catholic Church, provided that the tattoo is not an image directly opposed to Catholic teaching or religious sentiment, and that an inordinate amount of money is not spent on the process.

Catholic Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina used tattooing, especially of children, for perceived protection against forced conversion to Islam during the Ottoman occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (see Christian tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina). This form of tattooing continued long past its original motivation. Tattooing was performed during springtime or during special religious celebrations such as the Feast of St. Joseph, and consisted mostly of Christian crosses on hands, fingers, forearms, and below the neck and on the chest.[2][3][4] In India many Christians tattoos Cross Sign under thumb area.

Coptic Christians who live in Egypt commonly tattoo themselves with the symbols of Coptic crosses on their right wrists.


Woman applying henna in Morocco, 2008. Permanent tattoos are forbidden in Sunni Islam, but are permissible in Shia Islam.

Permanent tattoos are considered forbidden in Sunni Islam, but are permissible in Shia Islam. According to the book of Sunni traditions, Sahih Bukhari, "The Prophet forbade [...] mutilation (or maiming) of bodies."[5] Several Sunni Muslim scholars believe tattooing is a sin because it involves changing the creation of God (Surah 4 Verse 117-120).[6] There is, however, difference of scholarly Sunni Muslim opinion as to the reason why tattoos are forbidden.[7]

Due to Sharia (or Islamic Law), the majority of Sunni Muslims hold that tattooing is religiously forbidden (along with most other forms of 'permanent' physical modification). This view arises from references in the Prophetic Hadith which denounce those who attempt to change the creation of God, in what is seen as excessive attempts to beautify that which was already perfected. The human being is seen as having been ennobled by God, the human form viewed as created beautiful, such that the act of tattooing would be a form of mutilation.[8][9] This is however viewed differently in Shia Islam, as is it permitted.[citation needed]


Tattoos are forbidden in Judaism[10] based on the Torah (Leviticus 19:28): "You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord." The prohibition is explained by contemporary rabbis as part of a general prohibition on body modification (with the exception of circumcision) that does not serve a medical purpose (such as to correct a deformity). Maimonides, a leading 12th-century scholar of Jewish law and thought, explains the prohibition against tattoos as a Jewish response to paganism.

Orthodox Jews, in application of Halakha (Jewish Law), reveal Leviticus 19:28 prohibits getting tattoos: Do not make gashes in your skin for the dead. Do not make any marks on your skin. I am God. One reading of Leviticus is to apply it only to the specific ancient practice of rubbing the ashes of the dead into wounds; but modern tattooing is included in other religious interpretations. Orthodox/Traditional Jews also point to Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 180:1, that elucidates the biblical passage above as a prohibition against markings beyond the ancient practice, including tattoos. Maimonides concluded that regardless of intent, the act of tattooing is prohibited (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Idolatry 12:11).

Conservative Jews point to the next verse of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 180:2), "If it [the tattoo] was done in the flesh of another, the one to whom it was done is blameless" – this is used by them to say that tattooing yourself is different from obtaining a tattoo, and that the latter may be acceptable. Orthodox Jews disagree, and read the text as referring to forced tattooing—as was done during the Holocaust—which is not considered a violation of Jewish Law on the part of the victim. In another vein, cutting into the skin to perform surgery and temporary tattooing used for surgical purposes (e.g.: to mark the lines of an incision) are ped in the Shulhan Arukh 180:3.

In most sectors of the religious Jewish community, having a tattoo does not prohibit participation, and one may be buried in a Jewish cemetery and participate fully in all synagogue ritual.

Reform Jews and Reconstructionist Jews neither condemn nor condone tattooing.

In modern times, the association of tattoos with Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust has added another level of revulsion to the practice of tattooing, even among many otherwise fairly secular Jews.[citation needed] It is a common misconception that anyone bearing a tattoo is not permitted to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.[11]


Neopagans can use the process and the outcome of tattooing as an expression or representation of their beliefs.[12] Many tattooists' websites offer pagan images as examples of the kinds of artwork which they provide. At least one Wiccan Tradition uses a tattoo as a mark of Initiation, although it is an entitlement, not a requirement.


In Hinduism the marking of the forehead is encouraged as it enhances spiritual well-being and is one of the chakras on the body. Many Hindu women tattoo their faces with dots especially around the chin and eyes to ward off evil and enhance their beauty. The local regional tribes use tattoos to distinguish between certain clans and ethnic groups.

Many Hindu men and women tattoo Aum on their hands or arms. This symbols protects them from evil and bad karma. In Rajasthan and Gujarat, legs, arms and hands and in Maharashtra face and hands only considered as a desired place.

There is no specific mention regarding religious tattoos in Hinduism, and in ancient times tattoos may have been worn given a long history of body modification and enhancement in the Indian culture.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Darko Zubrinic (1995), Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zagreb 
  3. ^ Darko Zubrinic. "Croats in BiH". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  4. ^ Customs and folkways of Jewish life, Theodor Herzl Gaster
  5. ^ Sahih Bukhari, Oppressions, Volume 3, Book 43, Number 654
  6. ^ ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood wrote: “May or may not Allaah curse the women who do tattoos and those for whom tattoos are done, those who pluck their eyebrows and nose hairs, and those who file their teeth for the purpose of beautification and alter the creation of Allaah.” (al-Bukhaari, al-Libaas, 5587; Muslim, al-Libaas, 5538)
  7. ^ "Ruling of Tattoos in Islam". Retrieved 2012-04-05. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Tattooing in Jewish Law". Retrieved 2012-04-05. 
  11. ^ "Burial with tattoos - Ask the Rabbi". Retrieved 2012-04-05. 
  12. ^ "Earthtides Pagan Network News, Spring 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-04-05.