My wife and I have just returned from four nights in greater Indianapolis, Indiana, where I was speaking on behalf of the BYU Alumni Association and where we were the very well-treated guests, at their home in the suburban city of Carmel, of Margie and Michael Draper.
On Friday, we had lunch with senior officials of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which is headquartered near Indianapolis, and, afterwards, attended the main Friday prayer at ISNA’s mosque. The khutba or Friday sermon — a very good one, by the way — revolved around at least two themes: defending the moral character of the Prophet Muhammad against criticism from non-Muslims and living exemplary Muslim lives. At the conclusion of the service, our presence having been announced, the imam who led the prayers and delivered the sermon came over to greet us. Carefully stepping off of the carpet that marked the mosque proper — and, thus, as he put it, separating religion and politics, church and state — he informed us, since we were from Utah, that he intends to vote for Mitt Romney. We got a kick out of that.
On Friday evening, I spoke about Islam and BYU’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative to nearly thirty people (including the local architect of the soon-to-be-built Indianapolis Indiana Temple, which will actually be located in Carmel) in a cottage meeting at the home of Roger and Terri Turner. Very gracious hosts, they served wonderful food from a local Turkish restaurant called Bosphorus Istanbul Cafe. This was a gentle fundraising effort on behalf of BYU’s College of Humanities; the dean of Humanities at BYU, Dr. John Rosenberg, had flown out for it and also spoke briefly.
On Saturday, with the able assistance of my wife, I led a group of roughly twenty-five people (including a Palestinian Muslim family) through the “Beauty and Belief” exhibit of Islamic art that has just opened at the Indianapolis Museum of Art after having had its debut at Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art. It was fascinating to see almost all of the familiar artifacts in a new setting.
Then, that evening, I spoke to a multi-stake fireside about building interreligious “bridges.” Most in the audience were Latter-day Saints, but at least one Muslim (and perhaps three) also attended.
After church and dinner with much of the extended Draper family on Sunday, I spoke to about sixty single adults at the White River Chapel in Indianapolis on a variety of Mormon and Islamic topics. We had a good time. (I announced to them that, as an Islamicist and a relatively recent singles ward bishop, I had chosen the topic of “Jihad and Dating: How the Principles of Success in the Former Can Lead to Success in the Latter.”)
It was fun to be in Indianapolis, and probably good for my soul, too. There was no television in our bedroom, and we spent so much time meeting with people and traveling between meetings that I was spared the political hyperventilation that surely would have befallen an obsessive partisan like me over the past few days. The election is tomorrow, but I was distracted from it — which I appreciate.