“Interestingly, and underlining the power of imagery, many young and educated Kashmiris see the series as inspired by ‘the glorious historical past of the Muslims’. But the media-aware younger generation roots for the Turkish epic, saying that it scores over Thrones by shunning ‘vulgarity.’
By Asif Khan, Arbeena Khan
WITH an earlier generation fired by the charged accounts of Arab warriors, Kashmir, 40 years later, is hooked to the fictional exploits of a Turkish hero whose son founded the great Ottoman Empire eight hundred years ago.
After conquering Pakistan, the television drama series Dirilis: Ertugrul, produced with loads of cash from Turkey’s state coffers, has won wide approval here for what many regard as clean and wholesome content, and as a counter to viral Islamophobia, but earned sharp censure from some sections of the clergy who have declared cinema of any kind as haram.
For young Kashmiris, however, the drama’s appeal lies partly in its use of the Islamic idiom and traditions ostensibly for a positive portrayal of Muslims as a counterpoint to stereotypical depictions in sections of Western media.
Interestingly, and underlining the power of imagery, many young and educated Kashmiris see the series as inspired by “the glorious historical past of the Muslims.”
In the age of Netflix and YouTube, comparisons are inevitable with the Western show, the Game of Thrones, which also appears to have an avid following in Kashmir.
But the media-aware younger generation roots for the Turkish epic, saying that it scores over Thrones by shunning ‘vulgarity.’
Hanna Peerzada, 27, who is studying for her doctorate in English literature at the Kashmir University, however, won’t countenance comparisons between the two.
“Ertugrul is historical fiction based on probable events, possible time and real people,” she says. “On the other hand, the Thrones is popular fiction that feeds on fantasy, porn and outlandish language.”
Hanna thinks that the essence of the past in the Turkish drama is “certainly credible,” even though much has been glamourized for theatric effect.
For this university student, its battle scenes bring images of Badr, and how Muslims fought with swords to protect and spread their faith.
Ertugrul takes us to the 13th century when the Ottoman Empire was established. With recommendations coming from people like Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the show has already been a big success in Turkey, and has decimated numerous YouTube records on appearing in Urdu.
The series is seen as an effort by Turkey alongside Pakistan and Malaysia which had earlier joined hands to fight rampant Islamophobia in the world.
In Kashmir, where a prolonged lockdown after the abrogation of the Article 370 was followed by even a longer one due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ertugral has come as some relief.
Many Kashmiris feel that their Muslim heroes are being misrepresented and denied the respect they deserve. For a long time they have not seen heroic Muslim characters who have not been stereotyped as looters and barbarians, and a threat to humanity, mainly by Bollywood and Hollywood.
Like their suppressed co-religionists across the world, Kashmiris too view Ertugrul as a hero – and as an answer to the demonization of the Muslim peoples.
“Ertugrul has come to our rescue,” says Yawar Fayaz, 33, a medical representative currently watching the fourth season of the series.
“The way things are in Kashmir, the lockdown, and Imran Khan’s endorsement, all have played a big role in making Ertugrul a huge success in Kashmir,” says Faheem Iqbal, 22, a poet and writer from the Dooru-Shahabad area of Anantnag. “We (Muslims) have been represented in Ertugrul as we have actually been in our past, and not through the lens of any biased filmmaker.”
“I love Ertrugul for his bravery, his love towards his qabeela (tribe) and Halima. Our children can learn a lot about their glorious past from this series,” says Mehnaz Jan, a 26-year-old business developer at a telecom service-provider in Dubai.
Women find the drama appealing because it doesn’t objectify the gentler gender or show it as submissive.
“You will see Hayme Hatun and Halime Sultan, the mother and wife of the main protagonist Ertugrul, two strong-headed women of Kayi tribe, making important decisions along with their male counterparts.” Ruqayya Khan, a recent law graduate from Srinagar, says.
“I love how beautifully Ibn Arabi quotes Quranic verses and how he trusts Allah in every difficult situation,” says Nourreen Manzoor, a Kashmiri dental surgeon working in Jammu.
For Junaid Wani, a college student from Habba Kadal in Srinagar, such shows are an assurance that resistance to any form of oppression is the right way to move forward.
Kashmir has seen nothing like its present rage for this Turkish series.
From naming their new-born babies Ertugrul to copying its dialogues, Kashmiris are picking up things from the drama and assimilating them into their lives.
Young Kashmiri men prefer to have Ertugrul’s photo as the profile picture on their social media accounts, while an image of Halima, the female protagonist, serves for the women
Ertugrul memes are being shared on social media and many pages and groups going by its name have been created. Even phones ring with the epic’s musical score.
People have taken to greeting each other with their hands on their chests.
“There is an identity crisis in our youth, especially in teenagers and young adults,” says Wasim Rashid Kakroo, a child and adolescent psychologist working with the UNICEF and Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences. “That’s why they relate themselves to the characters of the show. And loving it is in itself a support to Ertugrul’s ideology. It can be taken as a mark of protest against oppression and injustice of any kind.”
Sabahat Muzzaffar, a researcher in clinical psychology at the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences says the thrill of seeing opponents defeated could be satisfying for Kashmiris who have been suffering for long without being able to do anything about it.
“We have seen that anything that sides with religion is followed with great enthusiasm here without people actually reflecting on it,” says Dr. Aftab Ahmad Rathar, a sociologist and lecturer.
“Kashmiris are reacting to this series positively because they relate their struggles with those portrayed in the show,” says Suraiya Jabeen, 30, another sociologist working as a teacher at a government high school in Ananatnag.
“We aren’t aware of the motives behind the series, yet we are following it blindly,” says Dr. Mushtaq Ahmad Rathar, an assistant professor of political science at the Government Degree College in Ganderbal.
“If this trend is legitimised, we would have to be ready for everything that comes out of such cinema, be it positive or negative.”
DEBATE AMONG THE CLERGY
Saudi Arabian government and a section of Muslim scholars have come out and declared Ertugrul as haram (prohibited) for the ummah. Dr. Zakir Naik, whose video went viral on the social media, says: “Almost all movies or series would not fulfill the criteria of being declared halaal (permissible). But, because of the evil that has spread throughout, anyone who is not watching serials is recommended to not watch those. But those Muslims who are addicted to serials or movies should stop seeing them. However, if they aren’t able to do so, then it’s better to watch Ertugrul than Hollywood or Bollywood movies.”
Mufti Tariq Masood, another cleric from Pakistan, had the same view.
A section of clerics in Kashmir also share strong views on the issue. But, why have clergy turned attention to Ertugrul when the lives and deeds of Muslim figures have been filmed or dramatized earlier as well?
Cinema can’t be used to preach Islam. We are the people of the Book and follow whatever is written in it for us. Ertugrul should be left on its own without actually making it the talk of the town,” says Dr. Shakeel Ahmad Shifayi who teaches at the MP ML Higher Secondary School, Bagh-e-Dilawar Khan in Srinagar.
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