Posted by on Sep 1, 2010 in Blog | 0 comments

On his inner left bicep, Theo has a tattoo of the “Bismillah” or “Basmala,” which is a word for the phrase “bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm,” which in Arabic means “In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” Any actual readers of Arabic, please forgive my unintelligible squiggles. Their accuracy ranges from “Trying and Failing” to “Not Even Really Trying.”

The Bismillah is found at the beginning of (almost) every sura of the Q’uran, as well in the preambles to a lot of Islamic constitutions, and in many other places. In a much less flattering context, this was the way Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad began his speech when he spoke at my alma matter, Columbia University. So clearly, it’s a pretty versatile phrase.

As with Judaism, tattoos are actually forbidden in Islam, though I’ve had a little trouble discerning exactly why – most explanations, however, feature the argument that tattooing alters God’s perfect design of the human body. Sometimes I imagine that Theo would get a tattoo not at the height of his experimentation with a particular faith, but at the end of it, as a sort of fare-well commemoration.