Viking woven burial band

Woven Viking burial band

Another claim of early Islamic influence on Western civilization has just bitten the dust, this time after only six days.

Last week, Sweden was abuzz with the findings of archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University, who, after re-examining 1,000-year-old Viking burial clothes, published a claim that embroidered silk patterns on woven bands found in two separate grave sites – which everyone had assumed were ordinary Viking-era geometric patterns – were in a square Kufic script and included the name “Allah.”

The claim was immediately cited as evidence of Islam’s influence and role in Western Europe’s history.

“One exciting detail is that the word ‘Allah’ is depicted in mirror image,” Larsson told the London Independent. “Perhaps this was an attempt to write prayers so that they could be read from left to right.

“That we so often maintain that Eastern objects in Viking Age graves could only be the result of plundering and eastward trade doesn’t hold up as an explanatory model, because the inscriptions appear in typical Viking Age clothing.

“It is a staggering thought that the bands, just like the costumes, [were] made west of the Muslim heartland. Presumably, Viking Age burial customs were influenced by Islam and the idea of an eternal life in paradise after death.”

Larrson, whose academic work has focused on the use of silk among the Vikings, added, “In the Quran, it is written that the inhabitants of paradise will wear garments of silk, which along with the text band’s inscriptions may explain the widespread occurrence of silk in Viking Age graves. The findings are equally prevalent in both men’s and women’s graves.”

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While Larsson’s claim drew immediate fire from Scandanavian nationalist groups who took issue with a Muslim connection to their heritage, it was an associate professor of Islamic art and architecture at the University of Texas who sent Allah packing.

“Dear Entire World: #Viking ‘Allah’ textile actually doesn’t have Allah on it. Vikings had rich contacts w/Arab world. This textile? No,” tweeted professor Stephennie Mulder.

“Actually #Viking textile has no Arabic at all,” she wrote in follow-up tweets, “but story has gone viral. There is something very troubling here about relationship between news media & experts, who should have been consulted for verification. It should go without saying that a single scholar’s un-peer-reviewed claim does not truth make.”

Larrson’s first mistake was “a serious problem of dating,” said Muldar, who noted that the square version of the Kufic script in the Viking embroidery was not invented until approximately 500 years after the Viking Age. It is common in Iran and Central Asia as an architectural element after the 15th century.

Even if one assumed there were examples of a comparable square Kufic script dating back to the 10th century for comparison, the patterns in Larrson’s textiles don’t spell “Allah,” said Mulder – even as a mirror image.

“Instead the drawing says ‘lllah’, which basically makes no sense in Arabic,” she noted.

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“But the final nail in the coffin – *cough* I mean burial ship – is that Larsson’s claim is based on extrapolation, not evidence,” said Mulder.

Reconstructed drawing of Viking burial textile showing geometric patterns and researcher's "Allah" extension.

Reconstructed drawing of Viking burial textile showing geometric patterns and researcher’s “Allah” extension.

Larrson’s widely distributed reconstruction drawing of the textile artifacts did not match the photographs. Her rendering of “Allah” required her to extend the pattern she observed, such that it would have required the woven bands to have been originally nearly twice as wide. As the edges of the bands are not frayed and show no evidence of having been trimmed, they were never twice as wide as they appear now and could never have supported the name “Allah” in square Kufic script. Larrson’s “Allah” claim is based on conjecture alone.

“If Larsson wants to stick with ‘Allah’ on her textile,” concluded Mulder, “it’s exclusively in the realm of supposition, not proof.”

Larrson’s eagerness to declare an Islamic influence on the Vikings is being mirrored across post-Christian secularist Europe.

Only weeks ago, a European Union-funded exhibition, “Islam, It’s also our history!” was hosted in Brussels, reported the Gatestone Institute. The exhibition tracks the impact of Islam in Europe.

The official statement claims: “The historical evidence displayed by the exhibition – the reality of an old-age Muslim presence in Europe and the complex interplay of two civilizations that fought against each other, but also interpenetrated each other – underpins an educational and political endeavor: helping European Muslims and non Muslims alike to better grasp their common cultural roots and cultivate their shared citizenship.”

Isabelle Benoit, a historian who helped design the exhibition, told the Associated Press: “We want to make clear to Europeans that Islam is part of European civilization, and that it isn’t a recent import but has roots going back 13 centuries.”

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In February 2016, President Obama, addressing the Islamic Society of Baltimore at their mosque, echoed that message when he said, “Islam has always been part of America.” A year earlier, he told a White House conference on “countering violent extremism,” “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.” In a 2014 statement marking Eid, Obama said the holiday “also reminds us of the many achievements and contributions of Muslim Americans to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy.” And in a June 2009 speech in Cairo, he said, “I also know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story,” a sentiment he repeated in 2010 at the start of Ramadan.

 

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