Tattoo craze finds followers in Jordan
Amman - Whether a sign of rebellious youth, making a fashion statement or imitating the West, getting tattooed is a fad embraced by many young Arabs.
“When I had my tattoo done a few years ago in Cyprus, my friends went crazy over it and some even did the same,” Amman high school teacher Salma, 27, said.
She said her tattoo — a dragon on her lower back — was done after a period of hesitation. “My family did not like it,” Salma noted, referring to a general anti-tattoo sentiment among Jordan’s largely conservative Muslim society. Many Muslims point to a ban in Islam against tattooing because it alters body features created by God.
Tattoos, however, have a long history in Jordan. Bedouin tribal women had facial areas tattooed — on the cheeks or around the mouth — to titivate themselves for their husbands in the absence of make-up. The procedure was primitive with no specific designs, just various size green dots. A popular beautifying method that lasted in the Arab world is henna, a paste made from a flowering plant. It is bought in cone-shaped tubes and is made into designs, especially on the palms of women’s hands. Henna, however, fades from the skin over time. Henna bridal nights in the Arab world are popular events, just like bridal showers in the West.
In the 1980s and 1990s, tattooing became popular among a certain segment of Jordanian men, especially the low-income, as a sign of chivalry and to show strangers that the tattooed is suave, popular, liked and trusted by the community.
However, the group was infiltrated by outlaws, attracting police attention. Subsequently, tattooed men have often become the first rounded up by police during any street violence.
There are several tattoo artists in Jordan but the most prominent is Hazim Naouri, 30, nicknamed “Huzz”. He is a professional tattoo and piercing artist who found fame in the Middle East among tattoo enthusiasts for his creativity and passion. Naouri told The Arab Weekly that his passion for tattooing started in childhood.
“It was the result of watching a TV show called Kung Fu: The Legend Continues,” he said. “Back then, tattooing was not that popular in Jordan but today it has become a sign of fashion and a way to express one’s inner self.”
Naouri said he had his first tattoo — a dragon in the middle of his back — done by a travelling Lebanese artist.
“I decided to create something out of nothing. A little shop located at my parent’s garage, a car dynamo, spoon, sewing needle and a pen for a tattoo machine and supporting friends were the things I needed to start a small business or at least the plan for the first tattoo shop in Jordan,” he recalled.
“And it worked.”
In 2007, Naouri said he opened his first shop and bought equipment from the United States. Today, he also has a shop in Dubai and plans others elsewhere in the Arab world.
The overall view of tattooing or inking has changed significantly in the Middle East, he said.
“People are now more aware of what tattooing is all about,” he said. “I have clients from both sexes who are in their 20s and 30s. Some have their own drawings that reflect an event in their lives. Arabic calligraphy plays a big part in their lives as Muslims. That is why we had to master almost everything from letters to images to 3D.”
As the practice of tattooing increases as more people brave the needle to express themselves, many say it is religiously unacceptable.
“Just because the West believes that it is a normal practice of injecting your skin with ink, it does not mean we, as Arabs, should follow,” said Amman bank clerk Lutfi Dmor, 33. Dmor pointed to a saying quoting the Prophet Mohammad, which clearly depicts a tattoo as a taboo: “’The Prophet cursed the one who does tattoos and the one who has a tattoo done.” “This is enough for me not to have a tattoo,” Dmor said.
Some critics blame the rise in tattoo popularity on the lack of awareness by certain societies, parents’ ignorance and the influence of famous people. For instance, celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Selena Gomez and Rihanna have tattoos in Arabic.
Regrets can be part of living with a tattoo.
Khalil Awadat, 45, said he was sorry about having a tattoo after he found it “not suitable for his age”.
“I did it when I was a young man and it was very cool to have a tattoo as a sign of manhood but now that I have kids I don’t feel comfortable with it and it gives a bad image to my children,” said Awadat, whose tattoo is a dagger on his right forearm.
Eyebrow tattoos cost $100-$300 in Jordan, while a full body tattoo, depending on the image, size, design and colours, can be much more expensive. Sumayah, owner of an Amman women’s beauty centre, said the most popular tattoos were to the eyebrow. As for the other tattoos, some drawings are more popular with girls than boys.
“I believe that girls always go with butterflies and dragons while men prefer tribal drawings and words, which are a set of drawings that involve lines and symbols,” Sumayah said.
“I even know a guy who has the image of his dog on his arm.”