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So I have a non-muslim friend who recently got a tattoo and asked me why it was forbidden in my religion.

When I said that it is a way of altering Allah's creation and it inflicts unnecessary pain on the body, he refuted by pointing out that circumcision is altering the body and causes pain in the process as well.

I do realize that there is a benefit to circumcising one-self, however I still found myself at a loss of words. I was wondering if anyone could give me a better explanation to this so I have an answer next time.

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    What is your basis that tattooing is prohibited because it is a change of Allah's creation? I have not come across a scholarly opinion that defines the 'illah (cause) of the prohibition; I have seen scholarly opinions that discuss the hikmah (wisdom or benefit), but not the 'illah. Please provide the evidence of the cause of the prohibition. – III-AK-III Feb 26 '18 at 2:07
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When it comes to altering one's body, sometimes it's allowed:

It should be understood that with regard to changing the creation of Allah, some of it is permissible and allowed, such as circumcision, shaving the pubic hair, plucking the armpit hair, and removing defects and deformities.
Islam Q&A

and sometimes it's not allowed. In the case of tattoos, there's ahadith which imply they are forbidden:

Narrated Ibn `Umar: Allah's Messenger said, "Allah has cursed such a lady as lengthens (her or someone else's) hair artificially or gets it lengthened, and also a lady who tattoos (herself or someone else) or gets herself tattooed.
Sahih al-Bukhari 5937 (see also Sahih al-Bukhari 5946)

As to why tattoos are forbidden, altering one's body is not a definitive reason.

Islam Q&A include "changing the creation of Allaah" as a reason:

Tattooing... is haraam in all forms, whether it causes pain or not, because it involves changing the creation of Allaah, and because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) cursed the one who does tattoos and the one for whom that is done.
Islam Q&A

As does IslamWeb:

Among the wisdoms that the scholars may Allah have mercy upon them have mentioned is that having tattoos is considered as changing the creation of Allah, and in some narrations the following addition has been mentioned "…whereby they change Allah's creation."
IslamWeb

Such ahadith include Sunan an-Nasa'i 5108 and one in Jami` at-Tirmidhi.

But there are other reasons offered: unnecessary pain (IslamWeb), and it constitutes filth (Qibla.com, sourced from IslamQA.org). And when asked about the reasons behind tattooing being haram:

Q: ... The two most common reasons I heard is ghusal will be invalid because it covers the skin and because it is permanently changing the body. ...

A: ... the impermissibility is not based on what you have mentioned.
MuftiOnline.co.za

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There is a way Allah (ﷻ) intends people to look which is "perfect form" and for a man that means being circumcised. It is when you take action to make alterations that move away from how Allah (ﷻ) wants us to be (the 'perfect form') that it becomes Haram.

Consider that Islam allows people with deformities (eg, cleft) to get corrective surgery. With the kind of logic employed by your friend there, this wouldn't be Halal because it is a technical "change of creation" from how they were born. Incorrect conclusion. Being created that way doesn't mean Allah (ﷻ) orders them to stay that way.

Circumcision & tattoos are polar opposites when you examine them:

Circumcision

  • Approved by Allah (ﷻ)
  • Great hygienic/medical benefits.
  • NOT INVASIVE. Removal of excess external skin.
  • Usually performed by medical professionals (doctors); safe.

Tattoos

  • Rejected by Allah (ﷻ)
  • No medical/hygienic benefits.
  • INVASIVE. Involves puncturing into the skin!!
  • Offered by tattoo artists, not medical professionals. High risk of bloodborne diseases, infection, keloids, etc.

So there is no comparison between them.

One is entirely good and enjoined, the other is entirely bad/risky and rejected.

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    Puncturing the skin with tiny needles is invasive while cutting through skin in order to remove a part of it is not? Circumcision is an invasive medical procedure. And there has been at least one study that suggests that tattoos may strengthen your immune system. Admittedly that isn't much, but it would challenge your claim. Do you have any evidence you could present in your answer? – The Raven Queen Feb 25 '18 at 14:16
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    "Great hygienic/medical benefits. NOT INVASIVE. Removal of excess external skin." You may want to ask on Medical Sciences to clear up that bit of apologetic misinformation. "safe" - maybe if you don't count losing a third of the nerves in your penis. Surgically removing your hand can be safe too - if you don't count losing your hand. "Offered by tattoo artists, not medical professionals." In many countries, tattoo artists are trained and monitored to follow strict standards of hygiene and disease prevention. – G. Bach Feb 25 '18 at 14:22
  • Sometimes I forget my audience is of the baby-boomer generation. We have innovative non-invasive ways to circumcise in our day and age [a simple google search will suffice]. That aside, even traditional surgical circumicision is minimally-invasive. (And involves no injection of a foreign body deep into your own body, as with tattooing that your body may react to) – Muslimah يا رب العالمين Feb 25 '18 at 19:07
  • @RavenQueen - "at least one study” - One study is not conclusive. Compare this to countless other studies that show medical benefits to circumcision. And compare it to the statistics that show how many people have had adverse effects to tattooing. So there is absolutely no comparison when you approach these two things from a medical standpoint. – Muslimah يا رب العالمين Feb 25 '18 at 19:07
  • @GBach - There’s no evidence of any harm to a man losing “a third of the nerves in the penis”. In fact, studies with large sample sizes show that men do not lose sexual sensitivity/pleasure so it seems all those “nerves” you are trying to exaggerate over are redundant. No way comparable to the hand, which has a purpose and is packed with receptors, in which you lose something invaluable if you lose it. Not the case with foreskin. – Muslimah يا رب العالمين Feb 25 '18 at 19:07

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