Religious perspectives on tattooing

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Religions have perspectives on tattooing.


Man with a full back Christian tattoo. Michael and the Dragon. Adapted from Die Bibel in Bildern (Revelation) engraving. Enlightenment motto "Sapere aude" is tattooed in the upper back.
A Christian couple with matching cross symbol tattoos to associate with their faith

See: Christian tattooing in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Coptic cross#History and use

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.

The minority opposing view see the Leviticus 19:28 verse: "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you" as prohibiting tattoos and even makeup. However interpretations vary, and it's likely the passage refers specifically to an ancient form of self-mutilation during mourning ( discussed in the Judaism section).

Others see this verse not binding upon Christians, in the same way as the verse “nor shall there come upon you a garment of cloth made of two kinds of stuff” (Lev. 19:19) is not binding, because it's only part of the Jewish ceremonial law, that was binding only upon the Jewish people ( see: New Covenant#Christian view).[1]

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 tribal 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 (without any explicit religious subtext).

Others use the Revelation 14:1 and 17:5, in which names are written on foreheads, as encouraging of tattos.[2] However, it is uncertain if the term is metaphorical as the language is prophetic.

Christian Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina started 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.[3][4][5] In India many Christians tattoos Cross Sign under thumb area.

Orthodox Coptic Christians who live in Egypt commonly tattoo themselves with the symbols of Coptic crosses on their right wrists, the history of this custom is similar to that of the Christian Croat tattos.

Among Mormons getting a tattoo is not considered sinful, but it is discouraged as it is altering the creation of God (argument similar to the Sunni Muslim oppsiton to tattos ).

Christian related tattoos are highly common in Military Veterans and born-again Christians (people that lived difficult lives and rediscovered spirituality).

Many Christians with tattos will have a Psalm or verse from the Bible tattooed on their body although some people will still have tattoos from the Bible despite not being Christian. Popular verses include, John 3:16, Philippians 4:13, and Psalms 23.[6]


Woman applying a henna temporary tattoo in Morocco. 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. The forbiddance of tattooing in Sunni Islam is derived from authentic hadiths (sayings of Muhammad), such as in Bukhari:[7]

Narrated Abu Juhaifa: The Prophet cursed the lady who practices tattooing and the one who gets herself tattooed, and one who eats (takes) Riba' (usury) and the one who gives it. And he prohibited taking the price of a dog, and the money earned by prostitution, and cursed the makers of pictures.[8]

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "The effect of an evil eye is a fact." And he prohibited tattooing.[9]

Several Sunni Muslim scholars believe tattooing is a sin because it involves changing the creation of God (Surah 4 Verses 117–120).[10] There is, however, difference of scholarly Sunni Muslim opinion as to the reason why tattoos are forbidden.[11]

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.[12][13] This is however viewed differently in Shia Islam, as it is permitted. Shia scholars Ali al-Sistani and Ali Khamenei believe there are no authoritative Shia prohibitions on tattoos.[14] Hence, it is not uncommon to find Shiites with tattoos of Shia symbols such as Zulfiqar or depictions of the Imams.


Famous Jewish American NFL player Igor Olshansky has many tattoos, including two Stars of David on his neck.[15] He is regularly featured in Jewish news publications.[16][17]

Tattoos are forbidden in Judaism[18] 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.[19]


Neopagans can use the process and the outcome of tattooing as an expression or representation of their beliefs.[20] 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. ^
  3. ^ Darko Zubrinic (1995), Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zagreb 
  4. ^ Darko Zubrinic. "Croats in BiH". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  5. ^ Customs and folkways of Jewish life, Theodor Herzl Gaster
  6. ^ "25 Nobel Bible Verses Tattoos". 
  7. ^ Stephen Youts. "Body Art of the World: Middle East". UCLA. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  8. ^ Bukhari, Book 7, Volume 63, Hadith 259 (Divorce)
  9. ^ Bukhari, Book 7, Volume 71, Hadith 636 (Medicine)
  10. ^ ‘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)
  11. ^ "Ruling of Tattoos in Islam". Retrieved 2012-04-05. 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Bryan S. Turner (31 Mar 2011). Religion and Modern Society: Citizenship, Secularisation and the State. Cambridge University Press. p. 94. ISBN 9781139496803. 
  15. ^ "San Francisco 49Eers Select Jewish Safety Taylor Mays". San Francisco Sentinel. April 30, 2010. Retrieved May 13, 2010
  16. ^ Berkwits, Jeff (July 1, 2004). "Sampson of the gridiron". San Diego Jewish Journal 
  17. ^ Josh Whisler (August 2, 2009). "Cowboys add muscle on defense with Olshanksy". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved September 21, 2011. 
  18. ^ "Tattooing in Jewish Law". Retrieved 2012-04-05. 
  19. ^ "Burial with tattoos - Ask the Rabbi". Retrieved 2012-04-05. 
  20. ^ "Earthtides Pagan Network News, Spring 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-04-05.