“Converging on Nahom”

“Converging on Nahom” January 5, 2024


Arabia from heaven
I doubt that many people today would describe the Arabian Peninsula as a “savannah.” Yet that’s what it once was.  (NASA public domain photograph)

Two new articles went up today on the website of the Interpreter Foundation:

“The Nahom Convergence Reexamined: The Eastward Trail, Burial of the Dead, and the Ancient Borders of Nihm,” written by Neal Rappleye

Abstract: For decades, several Latter-day Saint scholars have maintained that there is a convergence between the location of Nahom in the Book of Mormon and the Nihm region of Yemen. To establish whether there really is such a convergence, I set out to reexamine where the narrative details of 1 Nephi 16:33–17:1 best fit within the Arabian Peninsula, independent of where the Nihm region or tribe is located. I then review the historical geography of the Nihm tribe, identifying its earliest known borders and academic interpretations of their location in antiquity. My investigation brings in data on ancient Yemen and Arabia that has not been previously considered in discussions about Nahom or Lehi’s journey more generally, and leads to some surprising conclusions. Nonetheless, after establishing both where we should expect to find Nahom and the most likely location of ancient Nihm independent of one another, the two locations are compared and found to substantially overlap, suggesting that the “Nahom convergence” is real. With the convergent relationship established, I then explore four possible scenarios for Lehi’s stop at Nahom, the burial of Ishmael, and the party’s journey eastward toward Bountiful based on the new data presented in this paper.

“Interpreting Interpreter: Converging on Nahom,” written by Kyler Rasmussen

This post is a summary of the article “The Nahom Convergence Reexamined: The Eastward Trail, Burial of the Dead, and the Ancient Borders of Nihm” by Neal Rappleye in Volume 60 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreterarticles may be seen at https://interpreterfoundation.org/category/summaries/. An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at https://interpreterfoundation.org/interpreting-interpreter-on-abstracting-thought/.

The Takeaway:  Rappleye re-examines the location of Nahom, outlining (1) where the text suggests Nahom would be located on the Arabian Peninsula, and (2) where the tribe of Nihm would have been located in Lehi’s day, concluding that both lines of evidence produce a remarkable convergence and detailing four concrete proposals for the general location of Ishmael’s burial.

The mosque in Lakemba, NSW
Eid prayer at the Lakemba Mosque, in New South Wales, in 2014
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)

One of the more striking experiences that I had during a trip to Australia several years ago was a visit to the Lakemba Mosque (aka the Masjid Ali Bin Abi Talib), in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba.  I was taken there by the late Elder Paul Sybrowsky (1944-2014) of the Seventy, who, based in Sydney, was serving at the time as the Australia area president for the Church.  I’m guessing that this was somewhere around 2010 or so.  Maybe a bit before that.

The point of the visit was to meet with Taj El-Din Hilaly (تاج الدين الهلالي‎), who had been and maybe still was at the time the imam of that Sunni mosque and who, by appointment of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, had been serving as the mufti of Australia since 1988.  (He apparently liked to refer to himself as the Grand Mufti of Australia and New Zealand, although not everybody — not even all Sunni Muslims — recognized him as holding such a position.)

A mufti, of course, is a qualified scholar of Islamic law who is authorized to give advisory legal opinions — non-binding, non-government enforced rulings — in response to questions from believers.  (For a fuller explanation, see “What a fatwa is and is not.”)

The visit went well enough, but I came away with quite a negative impression.  Imam Taj al-Din had, by that point, been in Australia for the better part of three decades, but my sense was that he would have found it exceedingly difficult to carry on a prolonged conversation in English or to read an Australian newspaper.  The area immediately surrounding the mosque looked to me then like a bit of the Middle East, transported to Australia and plopped down into suburban Sydney.  Everything around it looked and felt Arabic, and all of the signage around it was in Arabic.  And yet, in his roles as imam and as mufti, one of Taj al-Din’s major responsibilities was surely to advise Muslims living in Australia — many of whom aren’t even of Arab extraction — how to negotiate life in the country as faithful practitioners of Islam.  But he himself could scarcely be said really to be in Australia at all, other than geographically.

While I was still in Australia on that visit, but after my time with Imam Taj al-Din, I read a report in one of the Australian newspapers of a Sydney lecture by the imam and Islamic chaplain attached to the campus of Georgetown University, in Washington DC.  It was, he said, absurd for Muslims living outside of the Middle East to have an imam or a mufti who couldn’t even speak the local language.  He named no names, but it was pretty obvious whom he had in mind.

Even a quick scan of the Wikipedia article about Taj El-Din Hilaly is enough to give at least some sense of the endless controversies in which he was constantly embroiled while serving as mufti.  Muslims living in places like Australia deserve and certainly need much better than that.  So I’ve been quite happy to see efforts such as that of Zaytuna College, in Berkeley, California, which is trying to raise up a cadre of well-informed American Islamic scholars and leaders who are both fully Muslim and fully Western.  I know relatively little in detail about Zaytuna, but I applaud the idea in principle and I hope that it succeeds.

I think that the Lakemba Mosque, then referred to as the Masjid Ali Bin Abi Talib, is probably the same one that is now called the Masjid As-Sunnah Lakemba — the Al-Sunnah Mosque in Lakemba.  But I am disheartened today at a report about Imam Taj-al-Din’s apparent successor:

“Australian Imam Ahmad Zoud In Sydney Friday Sermon: The Jews Are Bloodthirsty And Treacherous Criminals, Terrorists, And Monsters — Not All the Jews Are Like This, Just Most Of Them”

And please don’t read this next item (let alone click on its links) if you’re sensitive or queasy.  It contains some horrible things.

I understand unease and outrage at the violence of Israel’s invasion of Gaza in order to destroy Hamas.  I’m appalled, too.  But I cannot take seriously those who express outrage at Israel’s actions but cannot bring themselves to condemn the disgusting brutality of Hamas’s invasion of Israel back on 7 October.  Anyone who is unable to denounce what Hamas did on that day has forfeited any and all moral credibility:

“Did Islamic beliefs trigger the use of rape in Hamas attacks? If ‘yes,’ reporters should say so”

But, by the way, gender-related sickness isn’t confined to Muslims: “Female Boxers Sound Alarm on Men in Women’s Division: ‘You Could Die’”

Earliest stars 400 million years post Big Bang
A NASA simulation of the first stars, about 400 million years after the Big Bang
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

On a brighter note:  Jeff Lindsay called this to my attention.  I had missed it when it was first announced, but, if it’s true, it’s pretty astounding.  Especially to a young-earth creationist who believes the earth to be just six thousand years old, as several of my online critics have assured me, over the years and despite my denials, that I do:  “New research reveals age of universe estimated to be 26.7 billion years old”



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