Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Question: Is having a tattoo impermissible? If so, am i obliged to remove it even if it is difficult to do so? What about performing ablution in this situation and leading others in prayer?
Answer: Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray this finds you in the best of health and spirits.
Tattooing is impermissible. Ibn `Umar (Allah be pleased with him) relates that, “The Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) cursed the one both the one who gets tattooed and the tattooer.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
This applies, however, to the act of getting tattooed.
After the fact, when one realizes one’s past mistake:
(a) One must repent and seek forgiveness, and
(b) Remove the tattoo if it is possible to do so without hardship or excessive pain, especially if it has impermissible images, because it is a sign of un-Islamic ways. Otherwise, it is permitted to leave the tattoo, though one should keep it covered as much as possible.
Tattooing and Ablution (wudu)
Your wudu and prayer are both valid in the Hanafi school.
This is because of the great hardship normally involved in removing tattoos, as discussed by Imam Ibn Abidin al-Shami (Allah have mercy on him) in his masterpiece, Radd al-Muhtar `ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar [1.220, Bulaq ed.], which is the central fatwa reference in Hanafi fiqh because it systematically chose the strongest positions transmitted within the school based on the methodology (usul al-ifta’) laid down by the great later Hanafi scholars.
Ibn Abidin mentioned in his Radd al-Muhtar, that the ruling for tattooing (washm) is the same as dying one’s hair or clothing with a filthy substance: after washing the area, it is considered tahir, and the remaining trace is excused, because it is a trace that can only be removed by operation, which is considered a hardship (in terms of the rulings related to purity and filth).
Leading others in Prayer:
It is valid and not disliked for you to lead others in prayer.
It is stated in the Fatawa al-Hindiyya, a top Hanafi fiqh reference, quoting the Fatawa of the great Qadi Khan (d. 592 AH),
“There is nothing wrong with a man leading people in prayer if there are pictures (f: i.e. from tattoos) on his body, because they are covered by his clothes … as mentioned in Fatawa Qadi Khan.” [al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 1.86, Bulaq ed.]
In addition, given the firm prohibition of tattoos, it would be incorrect to use tattoo stickers and removable tattoos as well–because it is not correct to perform an action that resembles the impermissible. [Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
And Allah alone gives success.