History repeats itself, but, the pages of history may be revisited to embrace messages that do not outgrow their value and learn a few lessons that are never out of tune with the pulse of time. The world, as a stage, offers the same drama enacted over and over again to a multiplicity of successive generations, only to be forgotten and embedded in history every time. However, thanks to the post-modern era, starting from the 20th century, it is not the historical “gyre” that has to turn its course every time to reenact new versions of old stories. Things can be saved long before they completely fall apart. Media, like a giant messenger, can unearth the old version of history by staging a mix of facts and fiction in a harmonious, artistic way. Therefore, one does not have to wait for the historical tidings with their “gory locks” to shake humanity out of its complacency every time.
The power of media can easily bring our past back to the present and influence the future, which has recently been proven by the Turkish drama serial, "Diriliş: Ertuğrul" (Resurrection: Ertuğrul). The magnitude of this drama series is such that it transcends not just the historical period from 1200-1300 to 2020, but it can climb the borders of its home country, only to become a global favorite, achieving worldwide fame and repute like none other. A lot has been said in praise of this series' successful attempt at engaging the attention of a wide range of viewership. This article also aims at highlighting some very noteworthy attributes of the series, which happen to be its greatest strengths.
The series bespeaks of a handful of Muslim warriors who declare war against all the hegemonic powers of their time for the cause of self-realization. The proud Turkmen tread on a land that speaks volumes of its historical holiness; a land that is fragrant with the presence of Mevlana Rumi; a soil that is trodden by the greatest scholar of his time, Ibn al-Arabi. The same soil serves to host one of the most reverends of Sahaba, Hazrat Abu Ayub al-Ansari, as his last resting place.
Significance of a humble tribe rising to the pinnacles of glory by virtue of its convictions is not a new phenomenon in the history of Islam. The very inception of Islam had shined from the darkest of the eclipses, when Bani Hashim of Al Quresh was endowed with the arrival of Prophet Muhammed and which, later became the dawn of an era which was to last until doomsday.
The research-oriented script reflects the authors’ versatile knowledge and craftsmanship in making the series a chronicle of history. The artistry with which fictional elements have been wedded to facts could only be made possible by the exquisite galaxy of the cast and crew of the whole drama series, comprising the connoisseurs of creative art and music. The introductory soundtrack that leads the audience’s entry into the play is characterized by a deep spiritual rapture, ecstasy, trance and magic. The music composer has beautifully captured the melodic flavors, peculiar to the spirit of those times. The team deserves special applause for its exquisite music-making, broached with the visuals of weaponry and the artifacts of that time.
One of the major strengths of the series is its dramatic effects, the echoes of heart touching slogans in the background. The drumbeat accompanied by the rhythm of horses’ hooves galloping on the ground, renders one incapable to distinguish the throbbing of one’s own heartbeat mixed with it. A voice amid the rise and fall of sacred music announcing its oneness with Hazrat Ali as "Peeri Ast," a voice seeking glory in that very connection which happens to be the greatest pride of a freedom fighter and that supplication to:
“Let my sword act as Zulfiqar,
And my horse as Duldul,
The strength of my Stroke
Be as strong as Hazrat Ali’s.”
The drama of Ertuğrul took enough care not to miss the significant role played by the hardy horses, best suited to the nomadic lifestyles of that era. Not just beasts of burden and transportation, the Muslims treated them as rational beings with an intrinsic understanding of morality. They were treasured not only for their unparalleled beauty but also for their extraordinary devotion to their masters. Conquests were made to look glorious when on gallant horsebacks. On several occasions, Ertuğrul is shown to reflect his devotion and attachment to his horse. There are admiration and respect in which he regards his horse.
The Islamic background
In Islam, weapons and horses stand for “Samaan-e-Harb” for which the Holy Quran categorically instructs its followers in these words: “And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know (but) whom Allah knows.” (Surah Al’anfaal)
The horses’ glory is celebrated thus: “By the racers, panting/ And the producers of sparks when striking/ And the chargers at dawn/ Stirring up clouds of dust/ Arriving in the center collectively.” (Surah Adiyat)
Complete justice has been done in portraying the magnificence of horsemanship in the drama. Great care has been taken to preserve the cultural legacy of the Arabian horse, known for its versatility and superiority in the discipline of endurance.
One of the poignant details of the Battle of Karbala informs us that when Hazrat Imam Hussain’s horse, Zuljana, had reached the canopies with an empty saddle, after the imam’s martyrdom at the hands of Yazid’s army, his head hung low, his eyes swelled with tears and his hooves were heavy with a sense of resignation.
Ertuğrul’s horse, with tearful eyes, serves as a reminder of the imam’s last companion in the battlefield of Karbala. He was the only eye witness to the last moments of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom when all other Ashaab had died.
Women in Islam never had to struggle for recognition. They didn’t have to seek their place in Islamic society, unlike the West. Rather, they were made to recognize their place in the social setup long before they were even conscious of it themselves. "The Resurrection: Ertuğrul," series portrays Muslim women as playing their vital roles in the making of history during that time. They did what was most required of them. They exhibit leadership qualities when needed, become equal participants in state affairs. They are most well-informed and well-equipped with weaponry, contributing toward the economic and financial strength of their society, by running domestic industries, such as cloth weaving and carpet making, etc. They can even lend a helping hand in weapon-making, forming a smart partnership with men. They are always ready to face all the challenges of frequent wars and displacement issues, characteristic of nomadic culture, presenting a united front with men. They are tough and resilient, browbeating the harshness of daily life.
Looking back at history reveals the fact of how visionaries, scholars, Sufis of yore, have always been viewing the salvation of Muslim Ummah in their unity – a unity that is based on one faith and is observed with a strong sense of discipline. When Mevlana Rumi says: “Certainty (alyaquin) does not derive from the evidence of the mind, but pours out from the depths of the heart,” he invites his listeners toward the same cause that famous poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal dreams about in his verses like this:
"When I say I am a Muslim, a believer in God, I shiver for I understand the magnitude of hardships hidden in the words, 'No god but God.'"
Faith has to be heartfelt. It strengthens the determination of the believer. The same vision projected on the wings of media can reach and affect millions only if it is done with the utmost alacrity.
One of the confusions regarding the concept of the sword in Islam and as dispelled by Ertuğrul is the fact that the tribal Turkmen fighting for a homeland does not participate in worldly ambitions because ambition does not cater to death as its ultimate goal. The ultimate goal for a Muslim warrior is martyrdom and not materialism. And the strategy is that of utmost struggle. A struggle to achieve Peace for noble and peaceful purposes, a policy to live and let live, “We can live without food, survive without water but we cannot live without a homeland," the series quotes.
The history of the Ottoman Empire happens to be the shared history of the Muslim world. Also, it is a legacy that is not peculiar to Turkmen alone. Rather, Islamic history is a dense record of awesome details of valiant warriors who stood against the despotic regimes of their times and refused to accept all forms of tyranny. They had a sense of direction, which had no dead end. It was either the cause in this world or salvation in the hereafter; martyrdom being the more sought after ideal than victory.
Tipu Sultan, son of Haider Ali (born Sultan F. Ali Tipu, 1750-1799), also known as the Tiger of Mysore, United India, had to face similar challenges as were faced by Ertuğrul’s Kayı tribe. He was confronted by a united and strong British power in India. Like Ertuğrul Ghazi, he did not harbor any innate hostility against his foreign opponents. Rather, he was determined to preserve, if not expand his kingdom. His words: “It is far better to live like a lion for a day than to live like a jackal for a hundred years” echo the same philosophy that was shared by all Muslim warriors everywhere, fighting for their territorial rights during the various phases of history. The complexion of circumstantial realities remained almost the same, in every case and the same sense of conviction was held by the torch bearers of Islam, as the decisive factor in every scenario. Whereas, on the one hand, Ertuğrul’s tribe was able to establish itself as a great empire for centuries to come, Tipu embraced martyrdom with his grip intact on his sword, even after his soul had separated from his body.
The current perspective
Today, the same ideology lurks behind the years of Palestinian and the Kashmiri Muslims’ struggles for self-realization. Their sacrifices have not been able to impress upon the world the intensity of their cause, for there are no listeners, yet the unconquerable hope and will never die.
This is one instance of the strategic messaging that underlines most of the dialogues of the show. Occasional speeches on behalf of the main characters and events carry intrinsic moral themes within themselves. They can easily be read between the lines. That, “he whose ranks are united will be victorious,” and to be a leader means to be able to move masses. The real test of ethical leadership is based on the character, integrity and personality of the leader himself. The history of liberty is the history of resistance to coercion, a refusal to accept hegemony, etc.
These messages invite us to take a look inside our own ranks as well. The internal decay caused by the conspiracies from within, resulting in the exhaustion of all civil and military efforts at the well-being of society, splitting up all valuable strength in diverging directions thereby weakening the very foundations of the state. One cannot help but realize that the nobility of a cause is badly hurt when it gets inflamed by the menace of materialism. That, children, cannot be left on their own since they happen to be the most important segment of society. The intellectual and spiritual grooming of children is the state's responsibility along with their education. A child must know that he has been endowed with two hands with which he can perform the two-fold function of the struggle for peace and quest for knowledge. A sense of responsibility has to be inculcated into them, right from the onset.
The most important ideology on which the drama is based and as put forth to the audience is the believers’ strong and unwavering faith in Allah. The holy phrases, Allah u Akbar, Inshallah, Mashallah, Hayder Allah, and Haktir Allah echo every now and then. The orientation of all struggle is toward the establishment of an independent sovereign homeland where the voice of the Adhan could be heard from all the nooks and corners of the state. A place that the believers could call their own, where their children could breathe in light air, free from the shackles of pain and misery, a kind of a moral state where all are free and duty-bound to observe the rights of their fellow human beings. This is exactly in keeping with the ideology behind the establishment of Pakistan as an independent, Islamic model state, where: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State,” Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan said. It is a testimony to the fact that Islam does not imply extremism but aims to shun all forms of it.
The state is the greatest political power that plays a vital role in national integration. Likewise, mass media has a magical ability to foster a sense of alignment among masses. The cumulative effect of these two actors can project a unique sense of togetherness to the target audience. Broadcast on the state-run network TRT, the show was extended with special privileges by the Turkish government during its making. In fact, the popularity of "Resurrection: Ertuğrul" is owed much to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s personal interest in it. His personal visits to the sets of the drama along with his family reflect the fact of how Erdoğan is ready to channelize the influence of media toward ideologically oriented goals.
Last year on the occasion of the 74th session of the U.N. General Assembly, President Erdoğan had offered Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to air the "Resurrection: Ertuğrul" series on Pakistani TV channels. It was a suggestion of its own kind. The offer was wholeheartedly embraced by the prime minister of Pakistan, who took a special interest in bringing the idea home to his people. It can be interpreted as an attempt at enhancing bilateral relations between the two Muslim countries. We have already started witnessing the fruitful results of this media diplomacy fostered by the two leaders.
There is no denying the fact that the anti-Islamic forces are up against snatching the sense of identity, from the peoples of the Islamic world. Attempts have been made ever since the inception of Islam to distort the face of a true Muslim character. If the powers that be, are able to uproot our unique sense of identity from our minds, then they need not eliminate the Muslim population from the face of this earth. Initiatives of exploring, reenacting and presenting historical anecdotes serve as a call toward that connection to our roots which establish our distinction in the comity of nations. A look into history is a look into a mirror that reminds us of how we actually looked once, in essence, and in spirit and how time has brought wrinkles to our complexion and beauty that was once skin deep.
*Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature and a Ph.D. research scholar based in Islamabad