How ‘Ertugrul’ Fed The Hearts Of Muslims Hungry For Representation

Resurrection: Ertugrul is a ground-breaking show for more reasons than you can count.

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Engin Altan Düzyatan in and as Ertugrul Gazi.
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Diliris Ertugrul, Ertugrul Gazi, Resurrection: Ertugrul

If you haven’t been violating lockdown laws and are privileged enough to have a home, chances are that you come across these words a few times everyday - depending on just how many hours you spend on social media. Personally, I’m nearing a whole twenty-four - but that’s a story for another day.

The Turkish show Ertugrul is based in 13th century Anatolia and tells the story prior to the establishment of the Ottoman Empire. It illustrates the struggle of Ertugrul Gazi, father of the empire's founder, Osman. It is often called the Turkish Game of Thrones, and for good reason - you’ll find everything except dragons and sex: the castles, the sceneries, the clothes, the sword-clashing, the thrill, hell, even a starting score just as exhilarating. I often see my fifty-something parents bobbing their heads to the title theme just as I would for GOT - and it is cute as hell.

The show has taken Pakistan by a storm, breaking multiple YouTube records since its Urdu translation was released, and is now becoming the go-to Muslim household show to watch in India as well. It took me a hot minute to bring my snobby Game Of Thrones nose to the ground and watch the show, but I caved, and man, oh man.

 Scenes from the show Ertugrul.
Scenes from the show Ertugrul.
(Photo: Youtube screenshot)

The Resurrection of the Show

Ertugrul was released in Turkey in 2014, and became the most sought-after entertainment, spreading to Azerbaijan, for its shared history. Recently, Pakistan’s Prime Minister visited Turkey and heard about the mad fandom around the show, and decided to work to bring the show to Pakistan by getting it dubbed in Urdu, and releasing it on the first of Ramadan, after which it spread like wildfire in the South Asian Muslim community. Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia have decided to come together to fight the rampant Islamophobia in the rest of the world, particularly the West, and wanted to bring forth content that attempts to nullify the damage done through almost every film and Netflix series one can watch today.

With the language barrier broken, Resurrection: Ertugrul got an actual audience resurrection, with lead actors thanking fans here, hoping to “visit soon”. I’m not complaining, let me clarify: If there’s a meet and greet, you best believe I’ll be standing in line.
Esra Bilgic as Halime Sultan in Ertugrul.
Esra Bilgic as Halime Sultan in Ertugrul.
(Photo: Youtube screenshot)

The Representation-Hungry Muslim Audience

As great as the show is when it comes to all the very many bases you could judge it on; be it direction, storyline, acting, production - there’s more to it. Muslims across the world have been clinging to the show with a sort of emotional connection, so is it simply because the show is based around Muslim characters? That would be simplifying it. Truth is, for once, the Muslim character in the show isn’t a jerk, or a sidekick, or a terrorist. He’s the actual hero. A kind man who lives by the word of the Quran, and tries to do the best for his people. For once the Muslims in the show have hearts, have actual emotions, have faults that are common to all mankind. That’s new, specially for a show with a production value like this.

What I particularly enjoy is that both the Muslim and Christian community of the show are not a matter of black and white, evil vs good. There’s good and bad on both sides, giving the storyline the human heart we have been craving. For the parents’ generation that hasn’t been hooked to shows like Game of Thrones, the shift in genre is exhilarating to see. It also adds a complete new ball game when one sees the depiction of an Islamic Empire on TV screens today, a topic that is never touched. If ever a Muslim empire is depicted in any show or film, always, it is through the gaze of negativity.

In that matter, the show isn’t just a show, it is a declaration and destruction of the Islamic world’s ‘Orientalist’ identity, one that viewed the Muslim rulers as barbaric, irrational beings who were submerged in debauchery and violence.

The show is laced with direct messaging from the Quran, which comes as a fresh take for literally anyone, as all you ever hear of the Islamic Surahs on TV is before a man decides to put on an explosive belt. Truly, through Ertugrul Gazi, Muslims across the world haven’t just found a show that is excellently made, but finally found the heroes their parents told them about.

Of Fatwas and All That Is Haram

Zakir Naik, decided to come out with a video talking about the show, saying that though the show doesn’t have bigger sins like love-making scenes, it is still “haram” and encouraged those who do not watch shows to not indulge in this one either. He says the music and lack of Hijab wearing women in the show isn’t permissible for the Muslim eye. Whether you agree with him or not is truly up to you, but anything with the word ‘Muslim’ in it comes hand-in-hand with controversy, so we were very prepared for this. My opinion? Hmmm, I’m just saying there’s worse things I could be doing, but then again, I’m not a preacher.

If there is one thing I could change about the show...well, it is excruciatingly long. Often I wake up in the middle of the night thinking to myself “Wow, how will I ever complete five hundred episodes in this lifetime?” and then sit there as insomnia eats me whole...alright, I’m kidding. But truly, this is Kyunki Saas Bhi… level of endlessness. Sometimes you truly wish the horses would not run in slo-mo, and that people would just be dramatic as opposed to clinging to subtle reactions so the show could just.move.on...but here’s my thing.

Scenes from the show
Scenes from the show
(Photo: Youtube screenshot)

For many Muslim families, watching Ertugrul together has become a sort of evening ritual. We come together and watch the show as we try and grasp the very many complex relations between characters, groan at our mothers when they hide their faces when the gore war scenes come on, and smile in pride when the Prophet’s teachings hold back the good guys from giving up. It is true that the show is yet to reach other groups, but I for one am hopeful.

While not everyone may connect to the show’s religious angles, the thing is, they don’t need to. It is just as excellent without.

If nothing else, everyone can find one person in the show they can have a full fledged crush on, and I fully support that. More importantly, the normalisation of such content will truly be ground-breaking when it comes to fighting Islamophobia, as it gives a peek into the culture and lives of Muslims, allowing them to be regular human beings...something the world strips them off everyday.

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