Religion & Tattoo Taboos
08:13 AM
muslim prison tattoos.jpg
This week, one of the biggest tattoo news items was the deportation of a British tourist from Sri Lanka stemming from her Buddha tattoo, which the country's authorities deemed disrespectful to Buddhism.  According to the BBC on Tuesday:
Naomi Coleman was arrested as she arrived at the airport in the capital Colombo after authorities spotted the tattoo on her right arm.

A police spokesman said the 37-year-old from Coventry was arrested for "hurting others' religious feelings".

Ms Coleman is being held at an immigration detention camp after a magistrate ordered her deportation.

This isn't the first time a Buddha tattoo raised problems in Sri Lanka. According to NPR, about a year ago, another British tourist was banned from entering the country for the very same reason. With both cases, the tattoo collectors were tattooed with the Buddha renderings out of respect and devotion, and yet, for the largely Buddhist nation, it was perceived as quite the opposite and taboo.

This story had me thinking of the recent Vice article "Greece's Muslim Immigrants are Ashamed of Their Prison Tattoos"  by Alexia Tsagari. That article tells the story of six Muslim men who had tattooed themselves or voluntarily got tattooed while in prison, to later regret their tattoos because of the religious prohibitions and cultural stigma in the largely Islamic countries they emigrated from prior to arriving in Greece.

One of the men, Moshen, told Tsagari:
In prison, it's either them or you. You have to stay strong and struggle to survive on a daily basis. Some fight with their fists, others with their minds. I struggled daily to remain human. For this reason I carved two stars on my chest--a reminder that I wouldn't put my hands up, that I wouldn't surrender even if it meant my life would be in danger. Deep in my soul there are some thoughts and images, some secrets, that words cannot express. I turned these secrets into poems and drawings and had them engraved on my body.
Tsagari writes that most Muslims consider tattoos forbidden--haram--and the consequences of getting tattooed can be severe: "In Iran, the government dubs anyone with a tattoo a criminal, and the punishment for getting one can be up to six months in prison and a hundred lashings." However, she explains, "Today, in most Muslim countries, tattoos are considered makrouh--that is, they aren't illegal per se, but it's generally best to avoid them."

Most recently in the US, there was the stir over this Tattooed Jesus ad, whereby a vocal contingent in Lubbock, Texas found a Christian organization's attempt at appealing to the youth was deemed "blasphemous."

[Interestingly, the tattoo found on a 1,300 year-old mummy was most likely a Christian devotional tattoo, so religious tattoos are reaaalllly old news.]

As with the British tourists kicked out of Sri Lanka, so many of these tattoos are inked out of love and respect, and so they warrant acceptance rather than punishment.

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