Emirati national military service recruits not allowed to have illegal tattoos

The introduction of national service could lead to a rise in the number of Emiratis seeking to have tattoos removed, according to doctors.

Certain jobs require people to remove tattoos, says a Dubai doctor. Corbis

DUBAI // Doctors expect national military service for young Emiratis to bring a rise in the number seeking to have tattoos removed.

Body art is banned in the military and tattoos are viewed as haram by Muslim scholars, but it is not unusual for Emirati men and women to have them – especially if they have lived, studied or taken holidays abroad.

With national service now a requirement for all Emirati men aged between 18 and 30, Dr Hassan Galadari, a dermatologist and assistant professor at UAE University, expects more young people to undergo the painful process of having tattoos removed by laser.

“Usually it is young individuals who are in their mid twenties to thirties who have had those tattoos applied during their teenage years and now they would like to remove them, either for religious reasons or due to the nature of their work,” said Dr Galadari, who is Emirati. “They have usually been applied at home using non-sterile instruments: rarely are they done professionally in ink parlours.

“Tattoos may fall out of popularity among UAE youth with the introduction of national service.”

Almost all the body art Dr Galadari sees on Emiratis is permanent make-up on eyebrows or lips.

“It’s been perceived as a cultural norm here where tattoos are not. Religiously, permanent make-up is frowned upon unless for medical reasons such as losing your hair to cancer, but people still do it,” Dr Galadari said.

Some permanent make-up procedures can be performed in beauty salons, he said, and not always to a high standard.

“We see many people who have this done. The colour has changed with time and the ink isn’t always professional grade.”

Dr Galadari said there were many health risks in being tattooed by someone who had not been properly trained.

“Health wise, people should be told that some tattoo ink can lead to an allergic reaction, conditions such as sarcoidosis and even hepatitis C. There are outlets that will not allow those with tattoos to donate blood because of this reason.

“In general, however, if performed in the right place and under sterile and hygienic environments, tattoos are an art form, and a personal choice.”

A fatwa in 2010 by the Fatwa Centre at the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments said the piercing of skin while being tattooed was haram.

“We should differentiate between two things, tattoos and graphic drawing on body. Tattooing means to prick the skin with a needle and inject kohl or some other substance to change the skin colour to blue or green. This is haram according to the consensus of scholars,” it said.

Dr Mahaveer Mehta, dermatologist and medical director at Mehta Medical Centre in Dubai said people often looked to have tattoos removed when they grew older and started looking for work.

“Certain types of job like the army, police and some of the airlines require people to remove tattoos. Some of them have their boyfriend or girlfriend’s name tattooed on various parts of the body and regret it later.”

A tattoo artist who works in Dubai said a surprising number of his clients were Muslim.

“Almost all of them have asked for a name, either their own or a loved one’s. The younger generation of Muslims are more open.

“I realise that it is not part of their faith to have tattoos and I know in full what the consequences are. However, the UAE has more nationalities than any other country in the world, so many different beliefs and ideas towards tattoos.”

He warned that regulations restricting access to good-quality supplies of needles and ink drove tattoo artists farther underground and increased the health risk to the public.

“I am lucky in that I can afford to pay over the normal price for needles and ink, but others can’t. It sounds extreme but if there is more push to crack down on tattoo items at customs or random searches of known suppliers I fear that less professional artists will be forced to conduct unsafe practices, and we could see people making their own machines, needles and inks like they do in prisons.”