Being inked in the Middle East

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In the Middle East, “ink” is often a taboo based on the nature that most of the countries in the region are religious, or more likely follow the islamic rule where as with many aspects of daily life, you may find differing opinions among Muslims on the topic of tattoos. The majority of Muslims consider permanent tattoos to be haram, based on an oral tradition (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad. One would need to look at the details of this tradition in order to evaluate its validity and relevance to tattoos and other forms of body art as they are known today.

The scholars and individuals who believe all permanent tattoos to be forbidden base this opinion on the following hadith, recorded by Bukhari: “It was narrated that Abu Juhayfah said: “The Prophet cursed the one who does tattoos, and the one who has a tattoo done.”

Although the reasons for the prohibition are not mentioned, scholars have outlined various possibilities and arguments:

  • Tattooing is considered “mutilating” the body, changing Allah’s creation
  • It inflicts unnecessary pain, and introduces the possibility of infection
  • It covers the natural body, and is therefore a form of “deception”
  • Non-believers often adorn themselves this way, so it is “imitating the kuffar

Now with the being said, of course this doesn’t apply everywhere in the Middle East, Ink & Tattoo shops/artists are widely available and found to be acceptable in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. And it is normal to see tattooed people all around the region (Not in the Saudi football league where they have international players playing for local teams) and of course amongst expats or arabs working in the GCC.

But the question here is, does a visible tattoo influence your opinion of the person wearing it in this part of the world?

The answer here is simple, it is business related.

Meaning; if you are applying for a creative agency or an art-based job in cities like Dubai or Doha, then it is totally acceptable, unless you’re applying to work at an islamic bank or a state-run firm or applying for a job in Saudi, then forget about it.

I also noticed that it is easier to hire Inked non-Arabs than Arabs when it comes to ink, as Arab with ink is often marked as a “wanna-be westerner” or someone from the “outside”, sometimes pierced and tattooed individuals get asked if they were raised abroad, or come from a mixed background just because they’re inked and tattooed.

And, I’m speaking of personal experience as an Arab from Caucasian roots who is inked and pierced working in the advertising industry. So, most of those like me end up having hidden ink, remove their piercings for work and tend to tone it down unless the work environment allows it.

For majority of Arabs, yes! appearance in the workplace says a lot. And tattoos can say much more. Although our generation, our cultural backgrounds or religion, our views on self-expression – all of which has nothing to do with the subject matter of the tattoo, where on the body it’s placed, and whose body it’s on. But in business, there are a slew more of questions often going undiscussed as it’s a slippery slope.

1) It depends on the visibility.

Business people have had tattoos long before their recent popularity – but they were often hidden on the upper arm and chest. Now, wrist, hand, nape of neck, feet and ankle have become popular tattoo locations.

2) It depends upon the business you’re in.

There are certain people we’ve come to expect to have tattoos. Athletes, graphic artists, musicians, truck drivers to name a few.

3) It depends upon the tattoo. 

An inappropriate tattoo is no different than wearing an inappropriate shirt. In either of these cases, the workplace is no place for it.

Question is, Can you legally turn someone away because of their choice to tattoo their skin in the Middle East? Yes. Some companies even order employees to cover up their tattoos not to mess with the company’s image.

So, if that was ever the reason of you not getting a job, it is alright – You’ll find one where you fit in.

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