Arabic Tattoos – A Cultural and Photographic Journey

Showcasing body art of one of the world’s most aesthetic languages.

Arabic Tattoos is a book from Mark Batty Publisher that explores the genre of those who choose to push the cultural boundaries by having Arabic script printed on their bodies. With full page colour photos of the tatttoos and thoughtful essays on their calligraphic and cultural implications, we’re taken on a journey through the personal and political as expressed in body art.

Accompanying each tattoo is the story of why the subject chose to wear the Arabic script forever. The stories range from those who want to have their lover’s name on their bodies (but so only they will know), to messages of personal philosophy, to those who just want to show a sympathy with the beautiful aspects of Arabic culture buried under the American media propaganda.

There are even soldiers who served in Iraq who sport tattoos in Arabic as a mark of their time on duty. One commented:


Occasionally the Iraqis would spot some big tattoos poking out of our uniforms and it would blow their minds.


The sub-culture of Arabic tattoos is polemic, however, as the script is considered sacred by Islam, having been evolved for the express purpose of writing the Koran. America has long thrived on reinterpreting other traditions though in its history of immigration and assimilation that is the foundation of much of our modern culture today. That people choose to be tattooed with the Arabic script must surely be the ultimate homage to the language, even if considered profane by the authorities.

On the other side of the coin, some of the subjects reported difficulty in evening finding a tattoo parlour that would accept an Arabic image, the war in Iraq stirring the latter to patriotic extremes. One subject commented:


How far have we gone back to where we discriminate not just against race, but against language itself?


Many of those tattooed, however, don’t even know what their Arabic tattoo says. The flowing beauty of the script pleases the eye and they find all the meaning they need in how it looks. A calligrapher notes how well suited Arabic is to the human body as it curves around the contours and can morph to suit every body type.

Perhaps the best summary of the culture of Arabic tattoos can be found in the poem by Nizar Qabbani that one woman had tattooed on her shoulder. It says:


I do not believe roses have to explain their fragrance to the world.