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What does the Quran Teach about Body Modification?

The Quran does not address this because a lot has changed since the Quran has been revealed. What is possible today was not even thinkable at the time when the Quran was being revealed. Those have all of these possible developments and so when he gives a revelation, the common Muslim presupposition is that "This is going to be the guidance for all times and all places." Yet, the Quran had to be concerned with the way of life at the time, and what people knew and give immediate guidance to even make sense for a start.

The Quran is less concerned with our modern developments than with the immediate context in which it was revealed. The Quran had an interesting verse that is often quoted in this context: “I will mislead them and incite vain desires in them; I will command them to slit the ears of cattle; I will command them to tamper with God’s creation.” Quran [4:119].

However, the relation between tattoos and body modifications is not so very clear. They want to find the answer in the Quran. If the Quran doesn't speak directly to that question, they're trying to find something that's close enough. That wouldn't be fair to the Quran.

First, when Satan is making a boast in the face of God, he could be boasting based on his own ignorance of what he thinks is going to upset the plan of God. One finds in Islamic tradition that Satan is trying to mislead people. It seems like he's successful for a moment, but the person who was misled, then eventually turns back to God in repentance. That person loves God more than he or she used to because one gets a sense of forgiveness, closeness, and attachment to God after that period of separation or distance from God.

Satan's plan ultimately fails. While Satan is making this boast, "I'm going to cause people to change the creation of God." He doesn't even know what he's talking about. He thinks that he might accomplish something, but maybe he won't be successful. It looks to him like his plan in progress may indirectly feed into God's original plan. It's God's plan that's overpowering in the end. One can't take the fact that Satan boasted that he will do that itself as wrong. It may be something wrong in Satan's mind, but not necessarily wrong in the eyes of God.

Secondly, Satan says, "I will inspire them to change the creation of God." Muslim commentators exercise their thought as to what this could mean. Since one change certain aspects of the way that one is born. For example, soon after the baby is born, the baby's head is shaven in Muslim tradition. People pare their nails, people cut their own hair. Boys are circumcised in the Islamic tradition. Are these changing the creation of God?

There is some change that one is affecting. However, someone may say, “This is a part of the Islamic guidance, just doing what the Islamic tradition tells us, so this must be automatically exempted." That shows that there are some exemptions. God is authorizing people to make some changes to the way that one is naturally born. What could be excluded, and what should be excluded? What would be haram or wrong? There's no clear line of distinction. However, one can say that in Islamic tradition, there are some basics that need to be born in mind.

One must start with a basic presupposition, that one is happy with the way that God created a person. Unless it’s out of place like somebody is born with an extra finger.

If something is in our modern context, so unusual that it will draw a lot of unwanted attention, and the technology's available to fix these issues without much intervention then it’s permissible. Many scholars will concur, and Dr. Shabir Ally knows from the survey of the websites that answer Muslim questions, that there is very wide agreement on that perspective.

There is a Hadith that prevents tattooing. Those Muslims who have a greater level of confidence in Hadith and its authority for answering questions would say, "Tattooing is forbidden or haram for Muslims." On the other hand, earrings are known from the Islamic tradition. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Muslim women worn earrings, which means that they had their ears pierced and that was never objected. There was a certain scope for piercing. However, one might say, "It only applies to earrings because that's known from the Islamic tradition." However, something that is not known from the Islamic tradition is not an automatic proof, that the thing itself is disallowed. One must form a rounded understanding of this whole issue and not just issue a blanket statement. If something is necessary, then the Islamic tradition allows that.

There are some situations where people want to have body modifications unnecessarily. For example, somebody may want piercings in all weird places on the body. Some people may not be satisfied with the way they look. Sometimes one is not satisfied with one bout of cosmetic surgery. The job is done and one's not happy with the job, one needs to go further, etc. This lack of satisfaction needs to be addressed. From the Muslim point of view, one should find solace in the way that God created us. Even if there is something undesirable, one can treat that as a test from God.

One can exercise patience, knowing that there is a reward for patience. One cannot give a simple answer to all people. We can say, "Know where one stands, know what one commitment is to follow the Quran. Know what one commitment is to follow the Hadith. Know what one commitment is to following Muslim scholars who give pronouncements and have given pronouncements. Many have said in a blanket way, “Tattooing, haram, body piercings, haram." They just give a blanket statement like that. If one has confidence in such scholarship, then that's the ruling for him or her. Yet, if one wants to take a broader view of the question, then a broader view without arriving at a single definitive answer for all people.

What about permanent decisions like tattoos? What if somebody gets a tattoo and decides that they want forgiveness from God? What should they do? Should they get laser removal? Would God forgive them for having the tattoo on their body? What happens from there?

It depends on how firmly Muslims hold on to the idea that Hadith is so determinative of rulings. Let’s assume that there are many scholars who think that tattoos are haram. If one believes that tattoos are haram. Scholars would say to try to remove it if an individual can remove one’s tattoos. If a person can't remove it, but he or she is repentant about this, then God will forgive him or her because this is out of one’s control.

What one did in the past, was wrong, but now he or she is seeking God's forgiveness. God will forgive you. If a person wants to remove it, but he or she can't, then God is not going to hold a person responsible for what is beyond one’s control.

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