Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Before I became Muslim, I had very big tattoos [of humans and animals] on many areas of my body. It is very difficult and painful to have them removed. Alhamdulillah, I have been learning my deen, and people in my small community want me to lead them in prayer. Recently, however, a brother saw some of my tattoos as I was making wudu. He questioned whether my wudu is valid and whether I can lead others in prayer like this…
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
Tattooing is impermissible, and 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.” [As mentioned in many hadiths reported by Bukhari, Muslim, and others.]
This applies however, to the act of getting tattooed.
After the fact, when one realizes one’s past mistake:
a) One must repent, and
b) Remove the tattoo if it is possible to do so without hardship or excessive pain. Otherwise, it is permitted to leave the tattoo, though one should keep it covered as much as possible.
1. As for your wudu and
Your ritual ablution (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. [See below for a complete answer on this.]
2. As for your leading others:
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.]
And Allah alone gives success.