Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter, an observant Muslim from Turkey, spoke of his faith at a reception coordinated by the Dialogue Institute Oklahoma City.

Arriving at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in February and donning a Thunder jersey for the first time, Enes Kanter felt at ease.

At his request, the Oklahoma City Thunder organization had prepared a prayer room at the downtown arena specifically for him — an observant Muslim whose Islamic faith calls for obligatory prayers five times a day.

The Thunder center talked about the Thunder’s efforts to make him feel welcome during a recent reception held in his honor at the Oklahoma City home of Clayton and Marnie Taylor.

“They have really welcomed me here. The first thing the team did for me was they did a halal meal for me,” Kanter said. Halal foods are foods that are allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines.

“That was the first thing, and the second thing they did, where we play and where we practice, they gave me a praying room so I can go and pray. They were really respectful.”

The Aug. 20 reception was held to make the Turkey native feel at home in Oklahoma City, said Ersin Demirci, executive director of the Dialogue Institute Oklahoma City, which coordinated the reception. Demirci also is a Turkey native and a Muslim.

The nonprofit Dialogue Institute was established by Turkish-American Muslims and others of various faiths to promote understanding and cooperation between different countries and cultures.

People and cultures

At 6-foot-11, Kanter was hard to miss in the sea of people milling around the Taylors’ swimming pool and garden during the reception. The event drew people from different aspects of society, from faith leaders and civic and community leaders to current and past elected officials such as U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, and former Gov. Frank Keating and his wife, Cathy.

Kanter said the transition from Utah to Oklahoma City had to be made quickly when he was traded by the Utah Jazz to the Thunder, and he did not get to meet many people when he arrived in Oklahoma.

Kanter said the recent reception gave him an opportunity to meet many “beautiful people.”

Kanter said he wanted to invite people to the Dialogue Institute’s annual Turkish Festival set for Sept. 12 at the Myriad Gardens. Kanter said he plans to attend.

“It’s going to be a really good one. People can come to see the Turkish culture and eat a lot of good food,” he said.

The festival, which will be on the Myriad Gardens’ Great Lawn, will include performing arts, food, arts and crafts and family activities.

‘Let’s make friends’

Meanwhile, the Taylors, who are Christians, said their interest in hosting the recent reception went beyond their roles as avid fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Clayton Taylor said he and Demirci have been friends for several years, and he traveled with Demirci on one of the Dialogue Institute’s trips to Turkey. He said he liked the institute’s mission to bring people from different cultures, countries and faiths together to discuss the many things they have in common, rather than focusing on differences.

“Their goal is ‘let’s make friends,’ because we treat friends better than we treat people we don’t know,” Clayton Taylor said.

Marnie Taylor, CEO of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, said she also is connected to the Dialogue Institute. She said she is taking several leaders of nonprofits to Turkey in October, in partnership with the Dialogue Institute. The trip’s mission will be to help nonprofits in Turkey connect with nonprofits in Oklahoma City to network and brainstorm about ideas helpful to organizations in both places.