Islamic scholar disputes that Viking burial cloth says “Allah”

An Islamic scholar disputes a Swedish researcher’s assertion of finding Islamic lettering spelling “Allah” embroidered on a VIking burial cloth. The Islamic scholar contends that the Swedish researcher relied on faulty evidence and problematic dating.

A Swedish researcher’s announcement last week of finding the Muslim name for God inscribed in a Viking burial cloth is under challenge from an Islamic scholar. Stephennie Mulder, associate professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Texas, argued Tuesday in a string of tweets that the assertion that the burial cloth’s pattern forms the word “Allah” exhibits “a serious problem of dating” and flawed evidence.

Swedish researcher Annika Larsson said last week that silver patterns woven into a silk Viking burial cloth at the University of Upssala in Sweden matched Kufic Arabic script spelling out “Allah” that she had seen on centuries-old Islamic textiles. Larsson described the finding as groundbreaking because it suggests that the Vikings were not just plunderers of Muslim communities—they were also influenced by Muslims and adopted some Muslim cultural and artistic mores.

But Mulder contends that Kufic script did not exist at the time of the Vikings. The cloth is dated from the 10th century, whereas the Kufic design that Larsson referenced only became common after the 15th century.

And even if it was Kufic, Mulder added, it isn’t Kufic script spelling Allah. The “inscription” instead forms a sequence of letters “that makes no sense in Arabic.” She argued that Larsson interpreted it as “Allah” by extrapolating that the pattern continued in a similar form on other missing areas of the fabric—and as such, “Larsson’s extensions are entirely conjectural.”

Larsson countered to that the cloth’s designer may have obfuscated the lettering on purpose. She said that Muslim artists often avoiding clearly stating Allah’s name and used symbols or secret patterns to represent it, and that this cloth may have been an example.

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