Perhaps this posting does not discuss about Islamic art at all, but it is quite an interesting topic to share. In one of my previous article, I had discussed about the influence of Islam in Christian art, and one of the example is a coin bearing the stamp of Offa Rex (King Offa) on a supposed copy of a gold dinar from the Abbasid Caliph. A comment on the article from a reader speculated that King Offa might converted to Islam during his reign, but the Pope in that time erased historical records on this subject.
So the question remains – Did the Anglo-Saxon King, Offa of Mercia, converted to Islam?
The idea that this famous king converted to Islam and hence professing his acknowledgement of the truth of the faith is quite an attractive notion to Muslims. But what evidence do we have? As I had mentioned before, a copy of the Abbassid gold dinar stamped with the Latin inscription Offa Rex were found and displayed in the British Museum. A Muslim scholar, Dr A Zahoor, suggested that this is the proof of the king’s profession of the Islamic faith, and wanted to publicly announce his new found faith by minting these Islamic coins bearing his name.
The Coin in question
Unfortunately, the coin does not represent any evidence showing that King Offa converted to Islam. One glaringly obvious sign to point out is that the Arabic inscription in the middle, where the Latin text Offa Rex is stamped, is upside down. Furthermore, the Arabic inscription surrounding the coin is, when it is quite clear and faithful reproduction, the word ‘year’ is jumbled – something someone who spoke Arabic would never do. It is clear, with these signs, that neither King Offa nor his officials could not read or speak Arabic. Giving that translated Qur’an were only made after his reign, it is quite certain that King Offa had no idea of what the inscription meant.
Another important point to think about is that copying – whether it is coins, art styles or fashions are a very common practice in those days. Copying the coins of other kingdoms is a well-known practice to ensure that the coins were accepted in international trade. ‘Oriental’ products are in demand at that time, so to obtain such luxuries require the currency accepted by the Caliphate.
Historically, King Offa supported the Pope and the Christian Monasteries means that Islam is not a part of his life, and the fact that he went to great lengths to establish his own Archbishop supports this fact. He annoints his heir with intensely Christian ceremonies. He granted lands to make monasteries and nunneries (which, by logic, should he be a Muslim, he would build mosques instead). He pays tributes and alms to the Church, and even the Pope (in this case Pope Leo) praised him for his generous donations. All these facts leads to the fact that King Offa was not a Muslim.
In my opinion, perhaps the coin in question is an early example of Orientalism – the admiration or patronage of western individuals of Middle East or Islamic art and aesthetics. Frankly speaking, speculating whether a king converted to Islam or not based on a coin minted during his rule with Islamic stamps, even though it is vaguely plausible, is still that – vague. Unless there are more evidence showing such claims, King Offa of Mercia did not convert to Islam.