How ‘Ertugrul’ and his Islamic values hit a sweet spot in Pakistan


Such moral hypocrisy in social networks is not new to the subcontinent, but it is messy: Ertugrul certainly shocked Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly supported and praised this series for demonstrating true Islamic values. One of the opposition leaders referred to it in the Senate and said: You can’t build the state of Medina by sending Ertugrul. Khan has also been criticized for promoting Turkish rather than Pakistani series. The stars of the show said they would like to visit the country; Djuzjathan wished the fans to take an oath on the broken Urdu. Even cricket fans were involved when mediator Mohammad Amir suggested that one of the players should resemble Virat Kohli.

Thanks to the blockade – since the record number of rehearsals for the Ramayana took place in India – the shows attract an incredible number of people. The Urdu version of the show was released on the 25th. April on PTV, the national channel. According to PTV, 133 million people watched the show in the first 20 days. PTV’s own channel, YouTube, TRT Ertugrul, had its first broadcast on the 25th. May four million subscribers and 344 million visits.

Ertugrul Gazi, of the Kayi tribe, is an Oguz Turk born in the 13th century. Centuries of Central Asia towards Anatolia. His son Osman I founded the Ottoman Empire. Little is known about Ertugrul, which allows us to draw the picture of a noble warrior fighting for the welfare of his people. It’s a partial story, a partial production, says Regan Rafai Jamil, who grew up in Karachi and holds a PhD in political science from Brown University in the United States. It is a celebration of Turkey’s roots in Central Asia. Nomads are presented as very honourable values that resonate in Pakistan.

The program ran from 2014 to 19 years and consisted of 179 episodes of about 2 hours each, spread over five seasons. It’s a clear acknowledgement: Archery and horseback riding were taught by Kazakh and Kyrgyz specialists, and the maker Mehmet Bozdag commissioned a Mongolian illustrator to create a visual universe from his script. What kept me going, wrote author Annie Zaidi in Fontaine d’encre magazine, is rooted in social history: the road to the nomad tent, the negotiation of pastures, the moral concepts of bloodshed, hairstyles, armour, socks, carpets, fabrics, spoons, poetry, dance and legends.

Large and small battles between the docks and rival factions – crusaders, Mongols, Byzantine Christians, but also Seljuk Turks, local clans and other Oghuz tribes – have led to comparisons with the Game of Thrones. That’s true in a way, Islamabad said actor and writer Osman Khalid Butt, but it’s not the only attraction. The throne play is itchy. Then there is respect for customs and traditions. The program emphasizes the importance of religion and faith in telling history since the time of the Holy Prophet. And most importantly, he does it without ever becoming pessimistic or preaching. And there is a big difference with the HBO series: Ertugrul is a moral universe, and despite a lot of violence one can watch a show about chivalry and tribute with the parents.

You’re making me dizzy.

Over the past two decades Turkish television has become a fully-fledged empire. Currently the country is the second largest distributor of exhibitions after the United States. This series, known as dizi, is seen by legions of loyal fans from the Middle East to Latin America. They have become an important export product: in 2019 their turnover amounted to 500 million rupees (about 3,700 rupees). Every year they bring thousands of tourists to the places where the show is filmed. They are also crucial for the spread of Turkish soft power, especially in the Muslim world.

Unlike the Ottoman series Mukhtesh Yuzyl, which attracted a large number of people to Turkey, but which also generated complaints about the moral of the characters, Ertugrul supported the establishment from the beginning. It was broadcast on state television and approved by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Pakistan, a close ally, seems to have benefited from the enthusiasm of the first show. Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Faisal Javed Khan said in an interview that Erdogan had given the show to Imran Khan as a sign of goodwill and that PTV did not have to buy the rights.

Turkish programmes have been popular in Pakistan since the beginning of 2010 and appear on double TV, with a number of channels specialising in teni. Soon they started to take the viewers off the local TV programmes. In 2012, the TV Producers Association met against the foreign content that dominates the TRP (similar protests continue today). This year an estimated 55 million people watched the latest episode of Aşk-i-Memnu.

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Esra Bilgic as Halime Khatun in the Turkish TV series Dirilish : Ertugrul

Ertugrul was only broadcast on Pakistani television last month. Instead, it created a loyal but limited number of followers among those who could access Netflix and other less official streaming sites (and had no objection to English subtitles). One of those early listeners was Dr. Osama Siddik, a lawyer, political reform advisor and author, who remembered the desperation of Ertugrulus fans who were looking for new episodes when Netflix quit. However, the series could have remained a cultural change in Pakistan if Imran Khan had not hired it last October and even earlier this year and had asked him to be baptized in Urdu. PTV is engaged and Ertugrul appeared on Pakistani TV channels on Ramsan’s first day.

to observe Ertugrulus on Urda…

Given the stereotypical depiction of Muslim figures in Hollywood and more recently in historical Hindi films, it is not surprising that the Pakistani public is looking for heroes. Butt told me that the last Hindi film he had seen on the big screen was Padmaawat, and that he found the image of Alauddin Hilji as a brutal barbarian disturbing. Ertugrul is the antidote for this statue. This drama wants to show a completely different side of Islam and Muslims and free them from some of the obvious misunderstandings and stereotypes that are connected to us.

Ertugrul is the opposite in other respects. Everyone there speaks Turkish, whether Byzantine Christian or Mongolian, and has taken revenge on the Arabic English that has been used for years in Western film and television. And they are members of Muslim tribes, not crusaders, whose lives have become legends.

Siddique, who lives in Lahore, started watching Ertugrul online after he saw his mother and sister becoming dependent on him. This gives him the opportunity to talk to his mother about something; recently they tried to find an unconvincing actor for the show and only agreed on one point. Because it contains so many values that the series is attractive for different generations. Parents love him, says Neelam Ejaz, who works with the World Bank in Islamabad. Mine follows him every day. The timing was such that after the iftar they usually went to the living room to relax a bit, and then it happened.

Just as Ertuğrul is the product of the enthusiasm of the Turks Erdogrul for everything Ottoman, some think it fits into a certain image of Pakistan. I think the Pakistani state has long tried to equate national mythology with Islamic conquest, according to Ahmer Naqvi, a cultural critic from Karachi. There is a conscious attempt to create a story about Pakistan as the most recent manifestation of Muslim expansion. Umayr Javed, Associate Professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, shares this view, he writes by e-mail : Showing both channels of pan-Islamism and an open Islamic political and civilization renewal – these two themes are quite common in Pakistan’s urban folk culture.

Pakistan is proud of its history of quality television, but the national political dramas are starting to resemble each other, Naqvi said. Ertugrul comes to the ideal point, where it is useful that the Pakistani state has already made this propaganda, but at the same time it is a high-quality programme in the television landscape that creates a monotonous drama.

Other people I’ve spoken to have seen the policy of the show from a different perspective. For Zohaib Abdullah, a Karachi doctor, the series comes to life when Ibn Arabi, a true Sufi mystic, is introduced. He believes that the protagonist’s vision of a state based on Islamic principles has a cross-border resonance. (Ertugrul) Doesn’t build an empire, Abdullah says, it builds a state. Siddick attributes the success of the show to universal themes such as the pursuit of justice rather than religious metaphors or neo-o-o-manism.

The first time I heard about Ertugrul was from a friend in Delhi who told me that his friends publish Ibn Arabi’s lines on Facebook. The series is all the rage in Kashmir, where, despite the suspension or severe restriction of Internet services for more than nine months, the episodic USB sticks have changed hands. It may not be long before the stock market takes over the whole country. Did Ertugrul talk to Halima in Hindi? Strange things have happened.

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