The Friendly Atheist goes all HuffPo about Muslim Vikings

October 17, 2017 • 3:15 pm

By now we’ve all heard of an announcement that a group at Uppsala University in Sweden found a Viking burial in which one dead Viking was wrapped in a cloth that was supposed to depict the word “Allah” in Arabic script (just Google “Viking burial Arabic”; one example is here.)  Although a peer-reviewed publication of that finding hasn’t yet appeared, it would seem that the cloth, if actually worn on a buried Viking, couldn’t simply be trade goods, but must denote something numinous.  Based on that, one of the Friendly Atheist‘s co-bloggers, David McAfee, wrote the following post (click on the screenshot to see the article), ripped from the pages of HuffPo.


Well, that’s what I call “jumping the gun”. First of all, there’s no evidence that the wearer was a Muslim. While there’s no doubt that Vikings had contact with the Muslim world, there’s no evidence beyond this garment—even if you take that as evidence of Arabic saying “Allah”—that any Vikings, much less the decedent—were Muslims. Further, the script, which is “square Kufic” rather than Arabic, appears to postdate the existence of the Vikings, so there’s a problem of the garment’s provenance. In fact, the find is deeply controversial, with some claiming that the script is based on an unwarranted extension of the existing pattern, not the pattern itself. Further, the word “Allah” is visible (if it does say “Allah”) only in a mirror reflection, and why is that?  As the Guardian reports:

However the finding has been disputed. In a blog post, textile archaeologist Carolyn Priest-Dorman suggest, from analysis of the weaving technique in the clothes, that the recognition of the Kufic inscriptions is “predicated on unfounded extensions of pattern, not on [the] existing pattern.”

In addition, Stephennie Mulder, Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, has suggested that the Viking burial finds pre-date the development of the Islamic artistic style Larsson claims to have identified.

Mulder, who has real expertise in this area, has produced a whole string of tweets debunking this as a Muslim garment that reads “Allah”. Here is the first of 60 tweets she issued:

You can find all Mulder’s tweets (now up to 63) compiled in this thread.  So far it looks like the association of this cloth with genuine Vikings is dubious, as the dates don’t comport, and one has to really stretch one’s mind to the point of confirmation bias to see the word “Allah.”

Now one might excuse the press for getting all worked up about this find, even though they didn’t check with the experts, because they love stuff like this. But it’s less excusable when a skeptic (and I assume McAfee is one, since he writes at Hemant’s site) falls for the same thing. And it’s still worse when you then claim that some Vikings were likely Muslims (note “likely”), and finally top off this dog’s breakfast with the cherry that it’s great because “white supremacists hate it.” His evidence for that is—wait for it—a couple of tweets.

Now it’s conceivable that if some Vikings were really Muslims it would anger white supremacists. But I don’t see why, since the Vikings would have to be more than just practicing Muslims to anger the alt-right: they’d have to be people of color—that is, genetic admixtures of Scandinavians and Middle Easterners. And I know of no evidence for that.

Well, we’ll see when the peer-reviewed article comes out, but it would behoove those at The Friendly Atheist to avoid this type of premature clickbait.


94 thoughts on “The Friendly Atheist goes all HuffPo about Muslim Vikings

  1. That’s like playing Stairway to Heaven backwards to prove that Led Zeppelin worshiped the devil.

    You shouldn’t have to stretch this far to make fun of white supremacists, and you shouldn’t have to destroy your own principals to do so either (read: skepticism, making fun of weak chins to make a point and, in the process, offend everyone who has a weak chin who is not a white supremacist, which is quite a few if I’m not mistaken — not related to this post but I’ve seen leftist cartoons that do exactly this).

    Seriously, when are these people going to start self-evaluating and realize that it’s not okay when they do it either? It’s like they’re saving all the horrible bigotry that they have inside them for the “okay target”.

    1. I think this is exactly right, Justin. What we are seeing is a sort of whiggish interpretation of history from multiculturalists. They never make it explicit but the way of thinking seems to go like this.

      Since all modern immigration is good, it is useful to find examples of it in the past, thereby showing it to be natural. A recent example was the BBC’s depiction of a typical Roman Britain family as being sub-Saharan black. This was unproven, yet we have examples of Syrian soldiers in the north of England. Of course, there were people living in RB who were Mediterranean and probably North African. They were there because Britain had been colonised. The immigration was forced.

      We also have a British Museum coin of King Offa of Mercia (died 796) with a badly-copied upside-down shahada. Naturally, Islamophiles claim this as evidence of Offa’s Islam. (The textile, which Jerry refers to, feeds into this idea). The Museum thinks it was minted to be accepted in Southern Europe. Regardless, the question is almost never posed what a religion which, we are told, only believes in defensive wars was doing 2,800 miles from where it was born. Again, immigration and cultural change through force.

      Of course, there are examples of trading between the Scandinavians and Muslims through Rus, and of course there were relatively peaceful periods of normal commerce between Muslim and Christian lands. The far white right, in general, are so ignorant that they know none of this and imagine some racially-pure Europe up to some time last week before the hordes invaded. It is therefore trivially easy for SJWs to point out how wrong they are.

      But to justify, as they do, any modern immigration policy, no matter how restrictive or free, by the effects of two imperial conquests hundreds of years ago is not morally serious, and tangential.

      1. Only about 60 years before that The Armies Of Islamic Imperialist Aggression had got within about 100 miles of Paris, so its hardly surprising if some Islamic Imperialist artifacts turn up in Britain then.

  2. To me, the most interesting aspect is the usual self—immunization tactic of Intersectionalists: by loading some information already with “Deplorables”, the Intersectionalist makes disagreement impossible.

    Because when someone disagrees with them, that’s the true idea here, they are like White Supremacists, have something in common, or would get support from them.

    That way, the Intersectionalist asserts prerogative of interpretation. There are only two sides: them, and the Evil Other. And they have declared the Correct Version, which is what the Good People, themselves, believe. Only the Evil People, Deplorables, White Supremacists, have a different view — the wrong, evil, view.

    The longer I participate in atheism, the more I think American Atheism was a mistake. These people, Friendly Atheist and most others, should just go back to Evangelicalism.

        1. You have to disbelieve *seven* times a day, and be facing in the right direction when you do so.

          Die, heretic scum!

            1. That will do, but I actually prefer Down House: I get a faster and more deeply personal non-response to my lack of prayers that way.

  3. There’s a documentary about the Vikings’ early cooperation with Muslims that would tend to support the premise that some Vikings converted to Islam. It’s called “The Thirteenth Warrior”.

    1. Banderas documentaries are inevitably more gripping than most others. Their meticulous academic preparation bring incisive insight to various views of history and should serve as models to others in the field.

      1. I’m rather partial to the historical docu-dramas Hercules and Xena, which provide persuasive evidence that the Polynesians had permeated to all corners of the ancient world.

        (And this has nothing to do with the fact that the episodes were made a stone’s throw from here in Auckland or the local ubiquity of Maori/Pacific Island actors, at all).


        (Oh, okay: 😉

        1. I tried to watch Xena once. Next thing I knew, I was waking up in a hospital. The doctors said I nearly died from an overdose by “champball,” an often deadly combination of cheapness and camp.

            1. Probably depends which episode he watched. Even the most dedicated fan would have to admit the quality was wildly uneven.


      2. I’ll never forget the time I watched the documentary about him kidnapping a porn star. I was pretty shocked I had never heard about the incident before, and I’m still not entirely clear on how he stayed out of jail.

        And then he turned that man into a woman because the man killed his wife but then he fell in love with the dude. That was pretty messed up. Apparently he was a groundbreaking plastic surgeon, which was also a surprise.

        He must have amazing lawyers.

  4. Many years ago I bought a carved wooden Buddha. I liked it a lot at the time, still do. I still have it.

    Does that make me a Buddhist?


          1. There is a metal-worker’s mold from IIRC North Germany (of today) or Denmark, which was used to cast, in the same operation, both Xtian crosses and Mjollnr (Thor’s hammer) shapes for hanging on an neck-cord. Or ear-ring. Fortunately, I wasn’t far from the toilet, so I didn’t piss myself laughing, but it was a close-run thing.

            1. It’s not that strange: during the Saxon/Danish period in Britain, the Danes assimilated Christianity as part of their polytheism and transitioned to Christian monotheism. The Romans did much the same and the Greeks had a bi-directional contamination with Buddhism from the time of Alexander, resulting in statues of Buddha in the Greek style.
              Sorry for the effect on your bladder. Incontinence is a cross to bear.

              1. I should think it would result in some very cross bears, if they were trying to hibernate at the time.

                Sorry, couldn’t help myself.


              2. I don’t find it in the least bit strange. Only a very small number of people have ever let their (or someone else’s) religion ethics or qualms impede the profit margin in even the most trivial of manners.

              1. Yes, that’s a nice one.
                Off-hand, I can’t think of a significant appearance of a wolf in the Buybull. In Thor’s mythos though – lots of wolves, not least Fenrir. So I’d lean towards an Aesir reading of that artefact, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be dual use. After all, there are appreciable similarities between the legend of Baldur and that of Jebus, so you dn’t need thick tomes of theology to keep one sandal in each camp. Particularly if you’re doing business with Christians (buying slaves wearing a Mjölnir), Northmen (carrying an axe), and Muslims (selling slaves, wearing a cross) in one year-long trip.

  5. Two thoughts:

    1. I’ve read books and seen maps on Viking travel. They traveled all over the known world of their time settling down wherever they wanted, establishing towns and cities (Dublin, Rus, numerous sites in the British Isles, all the islands thereabouts including Iceland and Greenland and, even Canada briefly.) They were contract warriors and guards in places such as Constantinople and, no doubt, other parts of the distant world. Through their travel, it is highly likely they would have acquired goods through looting or trading. There is no way to know if the fabric refers to Allah, if it belonged to the person in whose grave it was found and if it tells us anything substantial about the buried person’s religious beliefs.

    2. I’m currently reading a book about the Silk Roads. There were a lot more interactions (trading, settling, warfare, etc.) between the
    backward country mice (the true barbarians: Europeans) and the mostly civilized city mice (Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Eastern peoples) than western students have been taught about.

    We seem to wallow in our ignorance.

  6. Even if all of it it’s true, even conceding everything for the sake of the argument – the “lol let’s revel in this because the other side hates it, look at them lololol”. It’s so petty and stupid.

    We saw this with “prius repellent” coal cars (lol liberals hate it!) and inefficient incandescent lightbulbs. More, the only reason many endure Trump is because he pisses off the liberals. Is that a good thing? No it’s just more tribal fodder. Ironic coming from the blog of a guy who “made it” by going to churches as an atheist, i.e., approaching the other side.

    1. A good example of let’s revel in it because the other side hates it” would be the quote from free thought blogger Crip Dyke on how racists must hate this supposed evidence of islam in Europe:

      I’ll be making my tea with racists’ tears today. Mmmm, delicious, delicious racists’ tears.”

  7. Whatever sort of “scriptural” (re the script and any putative relation to Islamic scripture & Allah)legitimacy the fragment might have, I agree that it proves nothing about the decedent with whom it is associated, or about the existence of Muslims in that society at that time.

    I used to have a cheapish textile used for a runner on a table; it had a border that looked so much like Arabic script that it was infuriating not to be able to make sense of it, since I knew Arabic at the (and have since forgotten most of it. But upon close examination, it was not Arabic script, nor Farsi, nor any other language written in Arabic script. It was some decorative approximation. Yet I could never look at it without wanting so much for it to become linguistic and reveal its “true” meaning.

  8. David McAfee has a track record of islam apologetics, for example when he desperately tried to avoid acknowledging that the Manchester bomber was a moslem and a jihadi.

    When there’s the opportunity to paint islam in a favorable light, however, David is quick to jump to wild conclusions:

    This isn’t a cut-and-dry declaration that all Vikings were actually Muslims, but it is evidence that some likely were. At the very least, it’s proof that these Vikings appreciated the culture of Islam, and did their best to imitate it and incorporate Islamic beliefs into their own. They shared ideas, instead of blindly hating Muslims.

    He’s an useful idiot for the islamists, not even smart enough to ask for payola from CAIR.

    1. He also tried to explain away “problematic” parts of the Qu’ran and the ahadith. CAIR would be a good fit for him.

    2. Yup, McAfee has a history of this.

      Sounds like the kind of talentless goon that should be at FreeThoughtBlogs.

    3. Question:

      Why do you prefer ‘moslem’ to Muslim? I had assumed it was similar to GOP folks calling the Democratic party the ‘Democrat’ party, but I am genuinely curious.

          1. FWIW, the Russians still call it ‘Pekin’
            – the Pekin-Moscow train at Ekaterinburg.

            And these are Chinese carriages!

            (Not sure which language the ‘Beezhin’ on the bottom line is – maybe Kazakh?)

            I’m sure one could deduce all sorts of amazing theories from that sign.


  9. Even if this did turn out to be the result of an Islamic funeral for a Viking (though just about every single piece of evidence points to this not being the case), how does that prove even the slightest of claims made by Mr. McAfee? One Viking may have converted to Islam does not equal “evidence that some [Vikings] likely were [Muslims],” or even “proof that these Vikings appreciated the culture of Islam, and did their best to imitate it and incorporate Islamic beliefs into their own.”

    What an utterly ridiculous blog post. Very sad to see it on Hemant’s site (though it’s not the first time he’s allowed some less-than-stellar content to be displayed).

  10. While there’s no doubt that Vikings had contact with the Muslim world,

    They certainly had gainful employment in pre-fall Constantinople, and so it’s incredible that there weren’t Vikings (in small numbers) in the Middle East in the time of expansion and conquest of the first Muslim states, that doesn’t mean much else. While the Viking stereotype is Conan on a berserker rampage, far more went “viking” (travelling) to make money by trade. Slaves captured from their neighbours being one of their main trade goods – let the slaves pull the boats over the portage, as long as you’ve got enough security, clubs and arrows to avoid an escape ; bring back more portable goods. What does the wise trader do? He flatters his customer.
    In that context, I see nothing to be astonished about in fragments of Arab script coming out of a Swedish tomb. It says almost nothing about what the buried person believed in life – the Aesir, Xtianity, Buddhism, Islam, all of the above simultaneously, and the Great God Profit Margin morning, noon and night.

    1. In South Shields, Aidan, is the C2nd CE Roman statue of Regina. The eulogy, carved in stone, was commissioned by Barates, a Palmyran Roman. He was her husband, expressing his deep loss at the death of his wife, a British ex-slave.

      This is often used to hint at evidence of the good relations between conqueror and conquered. One wonders what the pretty Regina thought of Barates. And whether, in the marital bed, she considered the baubles he showered on her marginally better than the actual chains of slavery.

      1. Well, Barates obviously thought a lot of Regina. So it’s just as likely as not that Regina reciprocated his feelings. She could well have felt very fortunate to have a wealthy Roman husband. He could well have been far more educated and well-mannered, and have treated her far better, than the average British husband of the time.

        Or, of course, not. It’s all speculation either way. The only fact we have is that he commissioned a statue (probably quite costly) in her memory, and he obviously had strong feelings of respect and affection towards her. It’s rather sweet.

        I agree we can’t generalise this to Roman-British relations in general.


        1. Alternatively, Barates may have felt about Regina in the distinctly creepy way that James Stewart felt about Kim Novak in Vertigo.

          Of course we’ll never know but I’d say that my rather pessimistic gloss is the more likely.

      2. Without Regina’s writing on the subject, we’ll never know. Just because Slavery is one of the longest-established human institutions (probably pre-dating the origins of agriculture, though I won’t go to the fire over that), doesn’t mean to say that it’s a universally good institution.

  11. My first thought was that it might indicate monotheism, not Islam specifically.

    I, too, had a clever 13th Warrior quip poised, but y’all beat me to it!

  12. “Vikings would have to be more than just practicing Muslims to anger the alt-right: they’d have to be people of color”

    I don’t understand that argument. It seems like most everyone on the right in the US, beginning somewhere toward the left flank of the Republican party, dislikes muslims. I’d be shocked if more than 1% of the alt right was even slightly tolerant of them.

    1. Exactly. Islam is perceived as a “non-white” religion by the alt-right. Even converting to Islam is unacceptable to them.

  13. All I can say is I’m glad I’ve stopped following the Friendly Atheist blog. They’ve clearly become a bunch of hacks a long time ago. Hemant himself has seemingly abandoned any principles in what I can only assume is some kind of fight for “social justice”. The truly sad part is that I’m seeing more and more big name atheists doing the same. Whenever words like “racist”, “sexist”, “islamaphobe” etc are thrown around, I’ve seen the best of them renouncing their skepticism and fervently adopting a deep faith in whatever narrative is being spun. When you see people say something like “I don’t know these people, but they are controversial”, you know the atheist movement has died. The killer? Intersectional feminism.

    1. Yes, all that, but I wouldn’t describe them as “Big Name” atheists. They’re bloggers and vloggers and the same hack speakers trotted out over & over on the same incestuous conference circuit. They’re out of touch with, and not reaching, the majority of secular people in the US.

      A/S activism in the US has been infested with SJW-Left humanists, but sadly, there wasn’t much of an A/S movement to lose in the first place.

  14. I noticed in the schematic drawing of the decoration that the pattern also included a pair of swastikas. Does that mean the person who wore it was also a Buddhist?

  15. Even in the unlikely event that a few Vikings actually were muslims, wouldn’t that make them guilty of the dread crime of cultural appropriation?

    It always puzzles me that modern-day westerners who convert to Islam can adopt Arabic names, dress in Middle-Eastern clothing, grow a big bushy beard (if male) and generally try to turn themselves into ersatz Arabs, without ever incurring the wrath of the CA commissars, yet the latter explode at the mere sight of a white guy sporting dreadlocks or a Chinese tattoo.

    1. Indeed.

      The concept of cultural appropriation is a bogus and unscientific one, used by SJWs and ideologues as a chance to bully people, while claiming to hold some sort of moral high ground.

      1. Like all those theists converting to atheism and imitating our fundamentalist attitudes and rigorous dress-code.

    2. Also, lots of Muslims are Persians, South Asians (Bangladesh, Pakistan, India), Central Asians (Uzbeks, Uighurs, etc.), South-East Asians (Indonesia). Are they culturally appropriating?

  16. This is right down there with finding images of Jesus or Mary in toasted, tree stumps, etc.

    Sifting (cherry-picking) the data and manipulating it (transformations!) to yield fragments that seem to support your preconceived notions.

    Perfect! 🙂

  17. “Allah” is also used by Arab Christians, and I’d guess even sometimes by Arab Jews (and there were whole communities of them in what is now Saudi Arabia at the time of Mohammed, from what I understand). So there are other possibilities …

  18. As archaeologists point out, the dead don’t bury themselves. Grave goods are placed by the survivors. Even if the shirt has “Allah” worked into the pattern, it could just be a trade item or a piece of booty that no one wanted to wear, so they used it as a burial shroud.

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