Religious views in general, (in) Islam or Christianity … (among the) Jews. Everybody is against tattoos. Why? Because you have to respect your body and you do not have to modify it to be respectable to the community.[1]

Take a moment and look at our world now. After 9/11, we can see a new division of cultures, stigmatizations and scapegoating. Theoreticians have described this as a clash of cultures. It is not necessary to go into detail about the global political and social situation. Everybody knows. The conflicts of the bigger picture and their impact on subcultures (and therefore also the tattoo industry) can be easily dissected in different manifestations and outcome in our microcosms. Talking about tattooing, one of the most known examples of subcultural struggle is the clash of religious interpretations of Islam and contemporary tattooing in the Middle East.


The Prophet cursed those ladies who practice tattooing and those who get themselves tattooed. Among the wisdoms that the scholars have mentioned is that having tattoos is considered as changing the creation of Allah. In addition to this, having a tattoo subjects the body to pain without a preponderant need or benefit and this is forbidden.[2]

"Our honeymoon summer 2010, as creatives we carry around a travel sketch book and abuse it beautifully, so when I (Yasmin) asked Amer to sketch out his name in Arabic while chilling on the costa-del-sol it wasn't such an awkward proposal. Once he was done we headed out to town where I had booked an appointment to get inked, as we approached the parlour it hit him and he was in a happy state of shock. One exact year later Amer asked me to sketch my name, we also went back to the same tattoo artist. Not only are the tattoos very personal but their locations on our bodies have an even deeper meaning to us.” #arabink #arabic #ink #tattoo #middleeast #love #marriage #instagram #instagramhub #ig #igink #calligraphy #couple #life #love

A photo posted by Arab Ink (@arab_ink) on

Actually, comparable to the situation all over the world, the Middle East had a rich tattoo tradition before the rise of religion and its doctrines. The practise was common in Egypt and Persia, mostly among nomadic tribal clans. This picture changed, when interpretations of religious laws and their vigorous enforcement became part of the social game. As these laws do still play a tremendous role in Middle Eastern societies, the observer has to look quite closely due to the lack of public exposure to see a change. There might not even be a change. There is war, rebellions and coups. There is no space for subculture.


Right? Wrong!


(The turning point is about to come.)

It might be quite true, that religion has a very strong position in Middle Eastern society. It might be true, that there is no great public exposure of tattoos. That does not mean though, that there is no scene and people participating in the industry. Actually it is a blind spot within the observer’s media-controlled perspective. Because we do not expect to see emancipation through subcultures in the Middle East, we cannot see it. Nevertheless, it is out there and very lively in its outcome. And, as I am tired to show, how miserable and victimized people are, I will show you the promising and strong side of that scene, without bragging about the suppression of religion and political power.


“Ummi” (My Mother) trickled down the back of her neck in thick, black geometric lines. I encourage my subjects to tell the story behind their tattoos.  However, as I watched her play back the meaning in her own mind, I could see that she wasn’t quite prepared to expose it past the skin’s surface.[3]

Arab Ink is one of the most appealing projects in the Middle Eastern scene. The photographer Bashar Alaeddin started “an on-going photo-documentary series about Arabic tattoos in the Arab world, their role in the development of new styles of calligraphy, and their meaning and impact on the people photographed[4]. Within this frame, Alaeddin aims to show the strong connection of Arabic culture represented for example by calligraphy and its inscription on skin. Not only that, the photographer manages to wipe away stereotypes of the region by giving each individual carrier of the tattoos a voice. At the latest then, the observer has to understand, that there is more than just superficial similarities between the Middle Eastern and Western scene. We share the very base as individuals, who are in constant dialogue with our surroundings – and some of us hold those experiences and perceptions with ink in our skin.


Each photograph cuts away the distracting stereotypes of conservatism and strict religious teachings. At once, it reveals a more complex and diverse people and culture, with a singular means of expressing their identity through the Arabic language.

Each encounter becomes a raw exposure of the individual’s persona: Who do they love? Where are they from? What do they believe?[5]

As often, there is more to see than it might appear at the first glimpse. True, there might be restrictions, there might be religious dominance and there might be war. But, the subjects of Alaeddin are not afraid to share their pieces and stories with pride. In the end, no doctrine could keep those people away from getting tattooed. Even more: Instead of rejecting their own culture and context for the sake of trendy Western imagery, they connect social background and its contemporary approaches within a hybrid concept of tattooing. Due to the context of the Middle East, all this might happen less visible, which makes it easy to be overseen and ignored. Looking at it in this way keeps feeding existing stereotypes without showing any effort to see actual social constellations. Once again, it is not the lack of the observed, but the lack of the observer. And, as anywhere in the world, it is on the young people to debunk constructed differences and see togetherness.

Let us believe in this.

In her own words: "In loving memory of my father. My world changed when my dad passed away. Little did I know that I will never be the same. They say time heals all wounds. I'm still waiting for my wounds to heal. Perhaps they will eventually, but for the meantime I still get emotional. In loving memory of beloved father I got inked with his name so it could be a constant reminder of a great man and a role model to all for 76 years, a husband for my mother for 47 years and a father to my sister and me for 41 years. Words can not express my feelings and my love for such a great man. May Allah grant him the highest level of Paradise." #arabink #arab_ink #tattoo #tattoos #calligraphy #arabic #middleeast #blackandwhite #documentary #father #ink #inked #art #arabictattoo

A photo posted by Arab Ink (@arab_ink) on

Tattoos have emerged as a new medium, not only for the art of Arabic calligraphy, but for a new generation of Arab youth who are searching for a means of defining their identity. While Western media constantly reduces the Middle East to a religion-centric war zone, they fail to notice the linguistic and cultural similarities that unify Arab people beyond religious affiliation.[6]


[1] Hazim Naouri, in:

[2] Fatwa Center, in:

[3] Bashar Alaeddin, in:

[4] Bashar Alaeddin, in:

[5] Bashar Alaeddin, in:

[6] Bashar Alaeddin, in:

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