Muslim Vikings

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There has been a discovery…have you heard? No. Maybe. Well allow me to share it with you. A few weeks ago, archaeologists unearthed Viking burial site in Sweden. Scandinavia is rich with Viking graveyards, so the discovery of another one was nothing new, but its contains were. Norse customs dictated kings and warriors be buried with treasures, weapons, slaves, and other exotic items to be used or enjoyed in the afterlife. The boat grave in this case storied a very particular item; a trove of clothing embroidered with the terms “Ali” or “Allah.” Initially, researchers believed the ancient fabrics were pure Viking material, but a closer inspection administered by Annika Larrson of Uppsala University discovered the Kufic script.

The clothes belonged to a woman in Gamla, where the burial site was excavated. Gamla is located within Uppsala, which is north of Stockholm. Two coins from Baghdad and a necklace were also found in her possession.

This shocking discovered has created some minor conflict in the field of history, nothing too serious though. Why was this material with the Vikings? The answer is simple. We have three options; the fabric was either gifted to the Viking, stolen by the Viking, or bartered to Viking in manner of trade. The question arises “hey, were Vikings Muslims?” personally I don’t think so, but professionally I am open to the possibility. Vikings often converted to Christianity, who can rightfully say a few didn’t convert to Islam.

The world has this strange perception, or rather reaction we believe the first thing we see or hear that is shocking. Debate of the fabric’s legitimacy came immediately after its discovery. Scholars like Stephennie Mulder, associate professor of Islamic art and architecture at the University of Texas at Austin thinks there’s a dating error. That is due to the creation of Kufic script 500 years after the Viking Age. Mulder contests Larsson’s work saying the latter’s work is “conjecture and supposition.” Mulder thinks Larsson has no concrete proof.

Given what we know about the prosperity of the Viking trade centers at Birka and Kiev, the Vikings developed healthy relationships with Arab traders. Furthermore, there is evidence supporting Arab caravans conducting trade within Scandinavia at the centers mentioned, and others as well. Several years ago, there was the discovery of 100,000 Islamic dirhams (coins) in Birka. This isn’t the first religious artifact with Arabic origin found in Scandinavia from the Viking Age; we have glass ring worn by a Viking woman engraved with the words “Allah.”

The debate by both women is a clash of both worlds: Viking and Muslim. Norse and Arab. Thor and Allah. Mulder is an academic of Islamic art, whereas Larsson specializes in the archaeology of textiles at Uppsala University. I’m not saying there’s going to be a battle with Larsson in the shieldwall, and Mulder on the opposing side astride a horse lance in hand. We historians fight in the classroom with speeches and academic journals supporting our ranks.

My thing is all languages come from somewhere, have some definite origin such as a common ancestor. So, even though the Kufic script may have entered the fray 500 years after the Viking age the print on the clothing found in Sweden might be one of those origins.

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