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Of Various Art and Islam

December 6th, 2015

“Oh, shit. Not today. Oh, no,no,no.”

I stare at the clock for a slight second before I grab my jacket and run out the door.

You see, I work as a tattoo artist and I’m actually pretty good at what I do. And today, I am interviewing for the Tattoo Galore. Yes, the biggest and most famous tattoo parlour in all of New York. Not just the city; the whole state. Last year, they ranked no.1 in the Tat-a-Tat List, which is the holy grail of the tattooing world.

I can’t tell you how long I’ve dreamed of this. Ever since I wanted to get my first tattoo at 17—a diamond engraved with the initials of my grandmother—I had been in love with the world of tattoos. In a world so alienating, any sort of identity is welcome. It was my second year of college when I realized I wanted to become a tattoo artist. So, you see, there are two aspects of tattoo art; one’s actually imprinting the art onto skin, but the most important part is satisfying the imagination of your customers. If they tell you they want a unicorn, and you notice their hair is a specific colour of purple, that’s what you incorporate into the design. It’s so fulfilling to see the look on their face when you give them what they didn’t even know they wanted.

Anyway, I digress.

This interview. Let’s come back to it. Let me tell you how I got it. Last month, I was shopping at CVS and this lady came up to me. She said she loved the tattoo work on my arms; that it was intricate enough to be personable. There’s little works of art embedded in the bigger works and you need to have a good eye to be able to spot them. I knew this woman knew her stuff.

“Thanks, I did them myself. “ I awkwardly laughed. The reason I hid the art was so no one but me would be able to notice it.

She was still staring at the upper corner of my right arm—the dragon fly with a hundred tiny little butterflies surreptitiously hid in the wings. An ode to the countless strangers you interact with everyday. For every human’s existence to have mattered to me. A desperate attempt at juicing meaning out of life.

“Well, not all of it.  It’s hard to reach some parts of the arm. A friend helps, but the designs were all mine,” I muttered trying to waver her gaze from my arms. I felt invaded. I also realized, at that point, how proud I was of the secrecy and the intricacy of my work.

“I’m blown away. You are one talented girl.”

And there it was: my ticket to my dream. If I get there in time.

The bus is taking forever today. I could have taken the Subway but I’d forgotten my card. Thank God, I always carry quarters. Once I’m on the bus, I pull out my pocket Quran and begin to recite. This is part of my daily routine. Before anything big, I remember God more than usual. But, today, I’d missed my morning prayer. It’s okay, though. I’ll offer it later. The bus starts moving, and so do my lips, as I began to mouth the magic words that instantly soothe me. I can’t explain it, and I’ve stopped trying. It’s like when people ask me why I like to ‘pain’ myself with needles.

The only answer I’ve come up with is to each his own.

And this is me.



This piece ties in the theme of diversity amongst all religions. We tend to generalize Muslims with beards and the hijab, forgetting that there our millions that don’t fit the stereotypical description. Peeking into different regions where Islam prevails was also tantamount to this conclusion. This prose depicts a woman who, in my imagination, is covered with tattoos but also takes solace in her Islamic faith. In Islam, the dominant perception of tattoos is a negative one. Some say they are forbidden; some say they are frowned upon. But, that’s another story of interpretations. But, art is such an integral part of Islamic history and tattoo art is also just one form of it. However, it is unaccepted in popular Islam. I just wanted to shed light upon many other sorts in which art is expressed that dont necessarily have to be in conflict with Islam. Again, it depends on ‘who’s’ Islam we’re referring to, and ‘which’ Islam we’re referring to. Many pick and choose from religion but still have the tendency to comment on the choices of other people. Tattoos are also considered an emblem of the West. This piece also touches upon the theme of the intersection of Islam with the West. The popular notion of the incompatibility of the two is challenged by this narrative where the two seem perfectly in sync with each other; both unexplainable aspects of the character. This was also partly influenced by books such as Persepolis and Jasmine and the Stars that focused on specific identities of a person’s islam. Not everyone looks, acts, feels the same. In the same vein, no two people practice religion the same way. It is all about a person’s worldview and their personal experiences. A Muslim from Africa might not see eye to eye with an American Muslim, and that goes to show the spectrum in which Islam is manifested and practiced.




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