Some time ago, there was a news story that garnered quite a lot of media attention, came out claiming that a Viking Ring had been found in a 9th Century grave in Sweden which apparently had an Arabic inscription on it. This would, of course, be an exciting discovery, if it were true. But as far as I can see, it is a bunch of vertical scratches and a single horizontal scratch, which, maybe, if one was generous could be construed as Pseudo-Kufic, not unlike what we find on Renaissance clothing and artwork, but chronologically interpreting it as Pseudo-Kufic makes little sense.
Here is a picture of the alleged Kufic Arabic inscription:
In the publication this has been traced and interpreted as follows:
I have been staring a lot at Kufic script lately, and while this looks vaguely like Kufic, there is so much wrong with the caption with this tracing, that I am not sure where to start.
Let's start with the most obvious part il-la-lah does not mean "For/to Allah". Claiming that this is the case is incredibly misleading and appears to be a conscious attempt to mislead an audience probably not well-versed in the Arabic language. li-llāh(i) would be 'for Allah', this is spelled as لله <llh>. This spelling is regular and well-attested, including in the Qurʔān, e.g. on page one of any Qurʔān you'll ever open up (Q1:2):
الحمد لله رب العلمين
<ʔlḥmd llh rb ʔlʕlmyn>
ʔalḥamdu lillāhi rabbi (a)lʕālamīna
[All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds -
This is certainly not an option. lillāhi looks like this in Kufic script:
(You can look at an old Kufic manuscript here.)
If one is generous, one may imagine that the authors were thinking of the preposition ʔilā spelled الى <ʔly> 'to, towards', as e.g. Q16:87:
والقوا الى الله يومئذ السلم وضل عنهم ما كانوا يفترون
<wʔlqwʔ ʔly ʔllh ywmyḏ ʔlslm wḍl ʕnhm mʔ kʔnwʔ yftrwn>
wa-ʔalqaw ʔilā (a)llāhi yawmaʔiḏini (a)ssalama wa-ḍalla ʕanhum mā kānū yaftarūna
And they will impart to Allah that Day [their] submission, and lost from them is what they used to invent.
But as you can see the preposition ʔilā, is not written connected to the following word, like some other monosyllabic prepositions like li- and bi-. If this is the preposition envisioned on this ring you would expect a word break, while it's a continuous line after the first "ʔ" sign. In Early Kufic it looks like this:
(Here is the link, last word on the 8th line is ʔilā, first word on the 9th is ʔallāh, reading from right-to-left, of course).
So what does it say? Well, if we accept that this is Arabic script, it seems only sensible to read it as اىلله <ʔ(y/t/ṯ/n/b)llh> (although the h would have a very odd shape, even by Kufic standards). Without consonant dots (which are often absent in early Kufic) the second letter could be read as any of those five options. This combination basically defies any sensible interpretation and looks incredibly alien. The only time two Lam's are found in sequences of the definite article ʔal- + a noun that starts with an l or when the preposition li- combines with the definite article ʔal- to form li-l-. A word-internal ll sequence is therefore essentially impossible. The publication's reading as <ʔlllh> is then even more absurd and alien looking than my generous interpretation.
The actual article can be read on Academia.edu and is more detailed, and shows some awareness of the problems with the spelling, but still fails to mention that il-la-lah would never mean 'to/for Allah', and seems to be very dismissive of the problems of 'spelling variation'. It should be noted that the other interpretation in šāʔa (a)llāhu roughly "God willing", seems highly unlikely. It would not just need one extra missing line, but another two more word breaks, and no less than three extra lines. Simply put, it looks nothing like the ring:
(source starts from the first letter of the 5th line).
I really wish to give the researchers the benefit of the doubt, and assume they are not purposely distorting the facts, but it is a real shame that such a news story gets quite widespread media attention while the researchers clearly have not even bothered to convene with an expert on the Kufic script to co-publish their findings with.
With any reading of Arabic being utterly unconvincing, we are simply left with a jumble of vertical lines on a horizontal line which vaguely resembles Arabic. Implying any cultural contact between the Vikings and Muslims in the 9th century on this item is very misleading.