Badu and Her Tattoos

Thursday, March 01, 2012


One of my readers e-mailed me yesterday to ask what is my take on the whole Erykah Badu fiasco which recently took place in Malaysia. If you haven't heard about it, the gist of the story is that her concert which was scheduled to be held in Kuala Lumpur yesterday was cancelled because a local  newspaper published a controversial photo of her. The photo displays a half naked Badu with a couple of tattoos on the top half of her body. Two of them represented the name of God in Arabic - Allah. The Malaysian Minister of Information, Communications and Culture said the tattoos were "an insult to Islam and a very serious offense.....the exhibition of the symbols [in that manner] for Allah and Prophet Muhammad were unacceptable to Malaysia's majority Muslim people."  

The R&B and hip hop singer was apologetic about the situation and explained that "she had no tattoos and the 'Allah tattoo' at the center of the controversy was body art from a photoshoot referencing "The Painted Lady", a character from the 1973 surrealist film The Holy Mountain by Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. In the film, "The Painted Lady" was a character who had various names of God etched on her skin." Badu also said that "she knew the meaning of the symbol, and that her photo had included the symbol for other names of God, including Jehovah and Yahweh. She said the interpretation of the Jodorowsky imagery was, "We are all one.""



What are the issues here? First of all, the tattoos. Yes, they are haram (forbidden) in Islam. But Erykah isn't Muslim. Secondly, having the word 'Allah' "tattooed" on your body. Yes, I can see why it would be offensive to Muslims but they weren't tattoos and when I say she isn't Muslim it means she doesn't have the appropriate Islamic knowledge regarding the use of kalamullah. Thirdly, the local newspaper's choice to publish that particular image. I don't know what the editors were thinking. Maybe they overlooked it. But they have been suspended from their jobs for the time being. Fourthly, the concert cancellation - was it justified? It's a sticky situation. I'm not sure if it would be a threat to "national security" but like Badu, I understand why it had to be done to avoid further complications.

My opinion? Personally, I'm not very offended by Erykah Badu's photo because I don't think her intention was to defame Islam or any other religion for that matter. She is a non-Muslim artist and people do all sorts of things in the name of art. I get why Muslims would be offended and they have a right to feel that way but I don't think it's enough to make me so outraged that I would start calling her names. Especially because she wasn't aware that it is offensive. Don't get me wrong. I'm just trying to see things from her point of view to gain another perspective. She did it to make a statement about unity and the co-existence of various religions. Just like the time she wore niqab while performing "Words I Never Said" with Lupe Fiaso (who is, by the way, Muslim) during last year's BET awards.

Honestly, I haven't heard or seen any Muslims making a big deal out of the photo but maybe that's just me. And frankly, I'm more outraged by this photo which I saw in the Utusan Malaysia newspaper a few days ago.



I'm sorry I had to show such a graphic image but the reality is these things happen. The caption says, "The body of a female baby with her umbilical cord still attached was found in a river in Kuantan." The article described that this innocent baby was placed in a plastic bag filled with bricks and she was discovered by some men who were fishing at the river. I can't say this particular baby was born to Muslim parents but in many cases in Malaysia, it is so-called Muslims who commit infanticide because they can't deal with the repercussions of having children out of wedlock. Abandoning babies in rubbish bins and leaving them to die. Nauzubillah min zalik (may Allah protect us from that). This is absolutely unIslamic! It's completely against the Islamic belief that every human life is precious and sacred.

"And when one of them is informed of [the birth of] a female, his face becomes dark, and he suppresses grief. He hides himself from the people because of the ill of which he has been informed. Should he keep it in humiliation or bury it in the ground? Unquestionably, evil is what they decide." {Surah An-Nahl, 16 : 58-59}

"And when the girl [who was] buried alive is asked for what sin she was killed." {Surah At-Takwir. 81: 8 - 9}

You want to talk about offending Islam? Some Muslims are better at it than non-Muslims. So no, I'm not mad at Erykah Badu for her "tattoos" because she didn't know any better at the time. After all, I'm sure she learned her lesson because she has apologised. That's just how I feel about it. I have bigger things to be mad about. One of the problems with some Muslims today is that they preach about Islam, a religion of peace and mercy, yet they practice hatred and cruelty. May He protect us from our own evils, forgive us for our shortcomings and guide our Ummah towards the Straight Path. Ameen.


Say, "O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful." {Surah Az-Zumar, 39:53}

23 comments:

Syaz E said...

Very well said =)

haliqdiaz said...

i'm feeling the same way about this issue..hmm..what's happening to our country nowadays..to many unsolved issues..nauzubillah min zalik..may Allah protect us always..xx
p/s: can't wait to read your entry about our environment..((lynas,etc) :)

Nadia said...

well said and written :)

yunayuni said...

Well written.

I had the same feeling too, but I just don't know how to express it in words.

Gotta agree with you, Malaysians especially Muslims needs to adjust our priorities. Gotta focus more on our own flaws.

Thanks again for writing! :)

Tun Teja said...

sigh*...people need to sort out the priority...

Mona Z said...

When I started reading your post, I was thinking, "So?" I'm with you, I'm not offended, some people look for anything to get offended by.

The.Confession.Of.Ainlicious said...

very well said babe...its really enlighten me in a way. thanks

sigordo said...

Erykah Badu's tattoos, her life, her art, her choice. I don't see any problem there.

Basically, the concert was cancelled on the basis of breaching PUSPAL guidelines. Simple.

However, the question now is why would The Star choose to use that picture in particular? We are talking about The Star, who has been around for so many years. How can they overlook such important issue such as offensive photos. Guidelines are guidelines. They should know the religious insensitivity guideline like the back of their hand. You got to question their agenda... this is not their first time being in hot soup regarding Islam...

Arin said...

Salam,

Does it mean that as long as the Baby issue is not settled, we can't touch on the Badu issue?

It's unfortunate to Badu, the blame should be on The Star. Nevertheless, an action need to be taken. Whether cancellation of the concert is too harsh or not, that is another issue.

However, I dont think we can view this issue as "the government prioritise Badu issue over Baby Dumping". Both are totally different issue and need to be addressed.

Anyway, I'm a Muslim, kinda like Badu's music, but really can't accept the tattoo. It's understood, she's not muslim. can't really blame her. She's promoting unity. In unity, there's a concept called "Respecting the Difference".

TweetyBird said...

Well written, Sha! After reading, hearing & watching this Erykah Badu story, seriously what's happening to our country?

Shahirah Elaiza said...

@Arin: First of all, they're not tattoos. You might want to re-read my post. Having said that, if you find the body art/painting offensive, I get that. Secondly, that's not what I'm saying. It's not a matter of what the govt prioritises but a matter of what WE as Muslims prioritise.

@sigordo: Yes, I completely agree with you. You made lots of good points. Makes me wonder... what was their hidden agenda?

Thank for you the rest of the comments everyone! We are all entitled to our own opinions. But it's nice to know there are people who share my sentiments.

furious said...

evnthough it's not tatoo but it represents tatoo, like we don't do bodypaint because it's close to resemble tatoo. like we cannot wear wig eventhough it covers our real hair. get it?check your fact straight.

Shahirah Elaiza said...

@furious (and outraged), I have a feeling you are the same person so I will only publish one of your comments. Body paint is not haraam. Otherwise henna art would be haraam. And what does this have to do with bodypaint and wigs anyway? I already said people have the right to feel offended but I don't understand why Muslims in Malaysia cannot be as angry about corruption, stealing, killing innocent babies as they are about a non-Muslim's so-called "tattoos"?

Yes, I am Muslim and I am open minded. Why? Because my religion teaches me to think the best of others. Not the worst. If we are to think the worst of others we'll never be able to co-exist with people of other religions.

She already apologised. What more do you want?

Shahirah Elaiza said...

And why aren't people as outraged about US soldiers burning the Qur'an in Afghanistan?

outraged said...

if people are not outraged by the other issues, let it be, why we musn't we be angry over this matter? come on!

Shahirah Elaiza said...

Because if Allah swt can forgive a prostitute when she gave a thirsty dog some water, surely I can forgive Erykah.

washi said...

Thanks for posting about it...I briefly saw the insert on Al Jazeera and am familiar with this body-art picture...but didn't know the circumstances under which the pic was posted in the newspaper. Definitely hidden agenda by the publication in question!

Anonymous said...

Allah. He is the Lord who Muslims worship. His name is sacred. ANY act of displaying it in an inappropriate manner (aka on a half naked body) is a form of insult. For non muslims such as Christians, no, it wouldn't be offensive. i mean why would it be. its fine for them to tattoo jesus on their body. it's fine. because they are fine with it. Muslims, most Muslims are not. why? it's a sign of respect to the Creator. The Quran, or even the name of God can't even be brought into the toilet, what more display it on a half naked body. Malaysia is a multiracial country with a muslim majority, that's a fact, therefore it should practice sensitivity to the many religions practiced by the people. The point is, the reason why some Muslims are upset is because God's name was displayed in an inappropriate manner. that's it. muslim ke, non muslim ke, God's name shouldnt be tattooed anywhere other than in our heart (and no, i don't mean it literally).

Alitstar said...

Stupidity! Plain stupidity. Time to get rid of stupid press and their paymasters.

Shahirah Elaiza said...

Yes Anonymous, I agree with you. JazakAllah Khair for explaining why Muslims reacted the way they did. We should definitely be offended when someone deliberately insults Islam (e.g. burning the Qur'an, drawing images of Prophet Muhammad pbuh) but in Erykah Badu's case, it was a mistake committed out of ignorance. We've pointed out her wrongdoing. There's no need to humiliate her and call her names like some Muslims have done.

On why we should forgive Miss Badu: http://shaelaiza.blogspot.com/2012/03/faith-friday-on-why-we-should-forgive.html

Adil said...

Wow. Exactly what I thought about the whole issue. Nicely put =)

RS said...

this post was brilliant. THANK U.

Truth is, Malaysian Muslims seem to think they are ABOVE everyone else due to their so-called piety. What u do is between you and Allah and sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we've no right to judge another person and scrutinise them for their actions.

Malaysian Muslims have this wonderful talent of overreacting and being rude and uncivilised in the process of scrutinising others.

It's no excuse, really. To be Muslim, it's IMPORTANT to deal with conflicts of beliefs and principles in the BEST and PEACEFUL of ways.

Such things should be taught in schools! Don't u agree?

PLEASE do another post on an issue like this. You've SO many M'sian Muslim followers. U could change soooooo many views. Please Sha!

Peace.

Hawa said...

get ur point babe, well said