Arabic Tattoos, Mistakes and Art

In one of my previous articles on this blog I discussed what I considered to be the most embarrassing Arabic tattoo mistakes – disconnected letters, written in the wrong direction and offensive tattoos. I thought it was pretty clear that most people would like to steer clear of these pitfalls. However, Kiba sent me the following comment about my article:

I think this is total B.S. a tattoo is personal and you can do what you want with it. I personally have the four letters of my name “disconnected” that an artist put together in an art piece for me. It means a lot to me and I’m not writing an arabic book on my body, it’s ART, so why feel like I have to put these constraints on myself? it’s your body…do what you want with it!

Here is what I replied:

Kiba, I completely disagree with you.

Of course, everyone is free to get the tattoos they want and it’s great that you like your tattoo. But remember, most people will be highly uncomfortable with a tattoo that is incorrect, nonseniscal or even worse doesn’t mean what they want it to.

Knowing Arabic and then deciding that you want to have disconnected letters for artistic reasons (fully aware of the fact that in 99% of all cases this is a bad decision) is different from getting a wrong tattoo due to not knowing the language.

Something being art presupposes that you are actually aware of the different nuances of the Arabic script and of its rules. Only then are you in a good position to judge whether you really want to break conventions for artistic reasons.

Having a tattoo read “I’m awsome [sic!]” or “Everyone Elese [sic!] Does” or “Only God will juge [sic!] me” is a mistake in the vast majority of cases and an embarrassment most people would like to avoid. And so is an Arabic tattoo that is not spelt correctly or obviously simply a mistake that is the result of a failed copy-pasting attempt.

Where do you stand on this issue? Does art permit everything? Even when the individual is not aware that what he is doing is contrary to convention (think “juge” instead of “judge”)? Am I too pedantic? I would love to hear your comments.

9 thoughts on “Arabic Tattoos, Mistakes and Art

  1. Holy cow! I haven’t been to your website for a while and it’s amazing the useful stuff you have on here! I’m *this* close to ordering a tattoo design. (which I would then have made into jewelry. I’m not crazy).
    Best of luck! Hope this catches on.

  2. Thanks for your kind words Snarla! I certainly try and hope that some of the resources I provide here are useful to someone. What did you have in mind for the jewelry designs?

  3. I must admit this is a very informative and insightful site when it comes to the topic of Arabian writing and I truly think you are a talented/gifted person.

    I was wondering if you could send me the following name and word in arabic in a very simple font. I would like to get a tattoo with either or both but don’t want any mistakes or anything I would live to regret.

    Name – Roberta
    Word – Determination

  4. hi there, i have spend about 2 months now looking for reliable sources but each one come back with something different. I didnt think it would be hard to find the words i want as they are all common words, turns out i was wrong. i would like “my mother, my father, my brother, my family” as a tattoo around my ankle. i would be really grateful if you could help me out! thanks !!

  5. I totally agree with you. I took Arabic classes for awhile, and while I have forgotten a lot of it, I still remember the alphabet, so I can tell when Arabic tats are misspelled. I think it looks ridiculous. As you said, having a tat in English that was not written correctly would be harshly judged, regardless of “artistic freedom.” Personally, I’m not even sure why people would want Arabic tats when they have no connection to the culture or language. I dated a Palestinian man for a few years and developed an appreciation of his culture. I may or may not get my name in Arabic tattooed on me, but I have a bit of history behind it. That’s just my feeling. Keep up the good work!

  6. Hi, can you please tell me how to write “courage”? i want to get a tattoo.

  7. Maybe my opinion’s biased because I’m Arab myself, but I completely agree with you. Disconnected letters look so ugly, and makes the person look like someone who blindly follows fads, and without the sense to research simple things like how Arabic is written. I also disagree, as an artist myself, with the person saying that it’s alright on the basis that this is art. It’s not art, it’s butchering up a language (and a beautiful one at that 😉 ).

    Just passing through and though I’d share my opinion. Peace!

  8. hola, me encantaría que pudieras traducirme la frase del tatuaje que tiene Victoria Becham en la espalda, que dice:”Yo soy de mi amado y mi amado es mío”, ya que el de ella está escrito en hebreo y a mi me gusta muchisimo más la caligrafía árabe.´Mi pareja y yo queremos tener el mismo tatuaje y ya he visto que la caligrafía cambia para masculino y femenino. Podías hacerlo ´para los dos? por favor!!!!
    mil gracias

  9. I can read & write Arabic and I understand that the Arabic script was designed to be written together as script. However, just in my humble opinion, if it was designed like that to be some sort of “art piece” and not due to a mistake or ignorance, then I say, “to each his own”. I have many tattoos (none with writing) and they are not meant to please other people, although luckily many find mine interesting & beautiful & pleasing to the eye.

    Art can be beautiful – but it can also be disturbing, no?

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