Yes, I get annoyed at the commercial reference or creation of the phrase “henna tattoo”…henna is also known as mehndi and I prefer calling it mehndi but too late, it is all over the west as “henna tattooes”…there is one stall on the Santa Monica pier where they just put ink on wooden blocks with etched designs and sell it for $5 or $10 or $15…sigh…
Applying “mehndi” is a “sunnah” where sunnah means the sayings or doings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He used to apply this plant dye to cool his head or to his palms or feet for soothing himself. This plant dye or “henna” was basically the leaves of the henna plant, dried, crushed and made into a henna paste and then applied. The paste would then leave its colour once it dried crisp on the applied surface. Then it would be scraped and some sort of oil would be rubbed on the surface to keep the darkening effect of the colour stronger.
Usually the colour lasts two weeks if the mehndi is of good quality. Nowadays though, people are impatient and want to put the dye on for a short time and get the best colour and so a lot of chemicals are added to the paste to make it literally black in colour once washed.
Mehndi is applied on happy occasions, for instance, weddings, eid and parties. Girls apply patterns traditionally on their palms and on their feet. Brides apply it all the way from their palms to the elbows and from their feet to their shins. In some Muslim cultures, even the males apply it on their hands but in solid patterns, like taking a bit of the paste and splattering it all over one’s hand.
Some old people also use mehndi as a natural hair dye and that explains those strangely reddish orange beards in the muslim world.
“Mehndi” is also the name given to a ceremony during weddings in Pakistan that signifies a singing and dancing event where the bride is usually supposed to be decorated with mehndi (though in most cases, she gets that done at a beauty parlour the night before her wedding!). Sometimes it is done for the man and for the woman separately and sometimes the “mehndi” event is held for both together. It is the most fun night of the entire mehndi with lavish flower decorations and singing competitions and dance performances and the “aunties” applying symbolic mehndi on a leaf placed on the bride and/or bridegroom’s hands.
Eid is in a week and I am looking forward to applying mehndi on my mother and sister’s hands and of course all over myself as well. My favorite thing is to get a nice, thick, deep-coloured arm band on my right arm!
But yes, it curbs my desire to get a permanent tattoo because I like this deep brown colour more than the traditional tattoo colour and also because it is temporary and so if I don’t like it after a while, I don’t have to worry about getting it removed or when I am old, I won’t worry about my tattoo sagging with the rest of my skin! Also, mama would absolutely not talk to me if I get one!!! Apparently the whole piercing and deforming one’s body is very un-Islamic.