Is it possible some Vikings were Muslim? That's a question the National Post is asking following the discovery of Viking funeral garb embroidered with ancient Arabic characters spelling "Allah." Annika Larsson of Uppsala University tells the BBC she was examining fragments of clothing discovered in 1,000-year-old burial sites in Sweden when she noticed some unusual symbols in silver thread, and they reminded her of those seen on textiles belonging to Muslim inhabitants of Spain in the Middle Ages, per the Guardian. She later identified the name "Ali" in ancient Kufic script, a likely reference to the cousin of Prophet Muhammad and the fourth caliph of Islam. Then, with the help of a mirror, she found "Allah" woven in reverse, possibly "an attempt to write prayers so that they could be read from left to right,” says Larsson, who found the same pairing on 10 textile fragments.
"It is a staggering thought that the bands, just like the costumes, was made west of the Muslim heartland," says Larsson. The garments themselves were actually discovered more than a century ago but have been largely in storage ever since. The fragments discovered by Larsson are the first in Scandinavia to mention "Ali," a figure particularly revered by the Shia Muslim minority, per the BBC. The find—combined with the 2015 discovery of the Kufic script for "Allah" on a Viking ring—opens up the possibility that other Muslim artifacts in Viking graves didn't simply come from trade or plunder, as has been generally presumed. "The possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out," says Larsson. (This Viking grave held a big surprise.)