EDIT: March 24th, 2019
Welcome to my blog! This review has become popular and is bringing lots of visitors. After you’re done reading this post, I’d recommend also checking out one of the following:
- Thoughts after reading The Brothers Karamazov (link)
- My review of Dr. Jonathan Brown’s book on slavery (link)
- My series on human evolution – starting with part 1
Anyway, continue with the Ertugrul review for now!
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم، وصلوات الله وسلامه على أشرف المرسلين
In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
I just finished watching the first season of the Turkish TV series Dirilis: Ertugrul, which is available on Netflix with English subtitles. In this post, I’ll summarize what this series is about, who the main characters are, what I liked and what I didn’t like. I’ll end with my overall thoughts about the show and its role in the media landscape, especially for Muslims, and then I’ll list other shows people who like Ertugrul might also like.
Please note that while I will attempt to keep spoilers to a minimum, there will naturally be some spoilers in this post. If you’re going to read it, don’t complain about spoilers later. You were warned.
What It’s About
Essentially, the show is about the Kayi tribe in the mid-1200s. The Kayis are a nomadic tribe of Turks who escaped from their ancestral homeland in Central Asia because of the Mongol invasions. They settled in territory controlled by the Seljuk Sultanate, but they ended up having to deal with both the Crusaders and Mongols even in their new home, as they struggled to survive and feed their people and animals.
While this show is not about the Ottomans per se, the Kayi tribe is notable in history because one of their members ended up founding a small state that expanded over time and later became the Ottoman Empire. That person, of course, is Ertugrul. So a lot of the show is actually based on a true story, though obviously many details and storylines are embellished or made up.
The major themes of the show include struggling for justice, persevering against hardship, and maintaining one’s traditions in the face of new challenges. For example, there’s often a conflict where reason suggests doing one thing, but the Oghuz Turks’ traditions say to do something else. The various characters will discuss and debate it among themselves, with different people taking different positions.
In Season 1, the bad guys are the Knights Templar. They are portrayed as a declining institution trying to remain relevant and convince the Pope to launch a new Crusade. (Note: while Jerusalem was in Muslim hands, the Crusaders still controlled territory in the Middle East, most notably Antioch.) This is probably accurate considering the history of the time. But still, the Knights Templar are a formidable enemy, one that has way more power and resources at their disposal than a nomadic tribe. So the challenges Ertugrul and his tribe face are severe.
Another interesting aspect is that the series contains references to sociopolitical events that were happening at the time. For example, the Knights Templar are shown as interested in translating Ancient Greek works into European languages. This was after Europeans had destroyed all Ancient Greek knowledge, but Muslims had preserved it. I thought that reference was pretty cool. Another aspect, that resonates with modern times, is how so many Muslim leaders were willing to sell their souls to the enemy for a cheap price. Reminds me of Muslim “leaders” today!
On a technical note, the original episodes of this show are 2 hours long. But on Netflix, they’re split up into 40 minute episodes (not including the opening theme and credits), with 76 episodes total in the first season. So it’s about 50 hours of total viewing time.
Overview of the Main Characters
Obviously, there are other characters besides these. I’ll divide the list into Kayis and non-Kayis. Kayis:
- Ertugrul: the protagonist, of course. He’s portrayed as hot-headed, idealistic and crafty. He loves justice and swinging his sword, but he’s also stupidly in love with Halime, which damages his portrayal for me – I’ll talk about this later.
- Suleyman Shah: Ertugrul’s dad and the leader (“Bey”) of the tribe. He’s wise and loyal to his traditions. Thanks to his decision-making, the tribe has been guided through many difficulties.
- Gundogdu: Ertugrul’s older brother. He’s the appeasing type, who tries to avoid conflict. Sometimes he’s on good terms with Ertugrul and other times he’s mad at him for his rash decision-making and infatuation with Halime.
- The women of the tribe: this includes Mother Hayme, Selcan, Gokce, Aykiz, Halime (sort of), and others. I’ll be honest and admit I forwarded through most of the scenes that involved the women. I’m not sexist, I just didn’t want to waste my time with their side conflicts.
- Kurdoglu: Suleyman Shah’s younger brother. He secretly harbors a jealousy against Suleyman Shah. Previously, his life turned upside down when he lost his wife and kids in a Mongol attack.
- Titus and Eftelya: two of the prominent Knights Templar, who infiltrate deep into the Muslim political sphere. Feminists will love Eftelya. The way she’s able to outsmart Ertugrul and others on multiple occasions is impressive.
- Numan and Yigit: Halime’s dad and little brother respectively. Numan is closely related to the current Seljuk Sultan, and he’s seen as a danger to the throne, because various tribes could potentially line up behind him in a rebellion. That’s why he and his family are always on the run, to avoid being jailed for life.
- Ibn Arabi: a traveling Sufi saint. He dispenses much spiritual wisdom and helps show people the Straight Path. There’s no evidence the real-life Ibn Arabi met the Kayi tribe, but he would have been in the area at some points in his life, so we can allow some creative license.
- El-Aziz: the Emir of Aleppo, and a descendant of Salahuddin Ayyubi. His advisors include his uncle Sahabettin (non-Turks would write it “Shahabuddin”), and a dubious man called Nasir. El-Aziz is young and impressionable, so the Knights Templar have a field day with him.
- Afsin Bey: an enigmatic operative of the Seljuk State. He does what’s necessary to preserve and expand the power of the Seljuks. And he’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty either, in a literal sense.
As you can tell, it’s quite the interesting mix of characters and storylines. If Wikipedia is a trustable source, the “historical” characters are Ertugrul, Suleyman Shah, Halime, Ibn Arabi, El-Aziz, and Sahabettin. The others are entirely fictional or fill-in-the-blanks, i.e. we know Suleyman Shah must have had a wife so they made up a name and personality for her. Also, one interesting fact to note is that the real-life Suleyman Shah made news headlines a few years ago when his grave had to be rescued from ISIS.
What I Liked About Dirilis: Ertugrul
Overall I like the show, and would recommend it to almost anyone. It has action, adventure, drama, and romance, so it appeals to a wide variety of audiences. The landscapes and scenery are amazing, and the garments they wear are beautiful. Since it’s a top-level Turkish series, the acting is good and the production value is high.
I love the Islamic aspects of the show. This includes the lessons given by Ibn Arabi, the heartfelt duas made by some of the characters, and the fact that many characters are shown doing day-to-day Islamic tasks like wudu, salah, and dhikr of Allah. It’s refreshing to see Islam not just talked about, but lived on-screen. This can have a motivating and rejuvenating effect for some people’s Islam.
I also love the themes of perseverance through hardship and struggle for justice that the series promotes. When you stick to your principles and trust in Allah, you will attain success. Everything that happens is a test and has been decreed by Allah in His infinite wisdom. To fight against injustice is not just about personal benefit, it’s a duty and an honor. These are excellent themes and it’s great seeing a TV show promoting them.
My overall rating for the show’s first season is 3.5 stars out of 5. I’ll explain why I deducted 1.5 stars below.
What I Didn’t Like
My biggest beef is with the dumb, pointless, and confusing romance between Ertugrul and Halime. One moment Ertugrul will be making dua for Allah’s guidance, the next moment he’ll be alone with a non-mahram woman, holding her hand and telling her he loves her. How does that make sense? Believe me, I’m not trying to play haram police or claim that I’m too pure for that stuff somehow. I just don’t think those scenes fit in with the overall theme of the show. Plus, the behavior they depict would have been scandalous among 13th century Muslims, to say the least.
I also didn’t like the drama between the various women of the tribe. Selcan’s plots, Gokce’s feelings, Halime trying to fit in, Aykiz getting screwed over, etc… I just forwarded through most of this stuff, along with the romance scenes. So I was often able to finish a 40-minute episode in 25-30 minutes. I wish someone would make an edit of the show called Ertugrul: The Good Parts where they just removed all the romance and drama. That would be a 4.5 star show!
To get nit-picky with the writing, there were some plot-driven happenstances that didn’t make much sense. One example is when El-Aziz was saved out in the woods; the whole buildup and execution of that scenario was rather contrived and often cringey. These scenes were a minority and didn’t affect the rest of the show too much, but they were definitely noticeable.
I deducted 0.5 stars for each of the above points. So my overall rating for the first season is 3.5 stars out of 5.
I saw the first couple episodes of Season 2, and it looks even better than Season 1. The new bad guys are the Mongols, and they actually hired Mongolian-looking actors to play them, which is awesome. And the romantic aspect is mitigated by the fact that Ertugrul and Halime are husband and wife now. But due to business in my personal life and professional life, I won’t be able to watch Season 2 at this point. Hopefully I’ll get to it after Ramadan, In Sha Allah.
The Role of Ertugrul in the Media Landscape
Some Muslims say that all TV is bad and should be avoided. In theory, this could be true. But in reality, we have lots of Muslims watching inappropriate shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Big Bang Theory, etc. Not only is much of the content of these shows highly inappropriate, they’re also being used to push subtle messages and promote ideological agendas that are antithetical to Islam.
Shows like Dirilis: Ertugrul can serve as a great alternative for young Muslims. Besides, it’s no secret that the entertainment industry is a powerful tool to influence the masses and spread a worldview. Others are using it to promote vices, so to counteract that, we should definitely popularize Muslim-friendly shows that encourage good and provide positive role models for Muslim youth.
Of course, this TV show is at the end of the day a TV show, so it shouldn’t be a substitute for learning about real Islamic history and getting Islamic knowledge. The role of this show should be as a substitute for other TV shows, not a substitute for history books or true knowledge and education. As such, the fact that it’s not an accurate portrayal of history is not a big deal. A portrayal that stuck to what we know about the real Ertugrul could not serve as a compelling TV program. This can. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Other Turkish Shows You May Like
If you like Ertugrul, you might also like Payitaht: Abdulhamid which is about the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamīd II. I’ve seen a couple episodes of it, but haven’t had the chance to watch it in detail yet. You can check out an English-subtitled trailer for one of the episodes here. Some of the episodes of this show are available on YouTube with English subtitles, but I’m not sure about the rest. I did find a private Facebook group that uploads English-subtitled episodes.
Another show which caught my eye is Mehmetcik Kutul Amare, which is about the Ottoman Army in Iraq in WW1. An English-subtitled trailer can be found here. I’m not sure where to watch this series and haven’t seen any of it myself. But it’s made by the same people who made Ertugrul, and some of the actors overlap as well. I hope the episodes are made available with English subtitles soon.
Another Turkish series that’s available on Netflix is Yunus Emre. Yunus Emre existed in real life too – he became a Sufi mystic in Anatolia amidst the backdrop of the Mongol invasions. I haven’t watched this show so I don’t know much about it beyond that. But it seems more spiritual than political as compared to the above two, and less heavy on the action. See the trailer here.
Anyway, that’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll be able to write a review of Season 2 when I watch it, In Sha Allah. Until next time, salaam.
12 February 2018
20 thoughts on “Review of Ertugrul Season 1”
I’m still on Season 1, and I have to say so far I agree with your assessment completely. Another series which is even better, though, is Yunus Emre. It stars the guy who played Şahabeddin. There’s no cringey love story yet. Check it out when you get a chance.
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Jazakallah khairan. Yeah, I plan to check it out at some point. Alhamdulillah, there are so many good options for TV shows these days, that there’s no excuse for us to be watching bad shows 🙂
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I believe hijab would have been more strictly observed amongst 13th century Muslim women than what is portrayed in the film. In the film women merely have a headdress that barely covers, and is used more to beautify than to cover awrah. I mean c’mon, hijab was a common practice even amongst Christian women in the West during that period – Muslim women would have been far more devoted to their religion, yet their attire (particularly the headdress) I feel is a few centuries advanced of their time.
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Maryam that’s a great point. In fact, a visitor to Ottoman Turkey in the 1700s found that women wore full niqab there, not just a headscarf (see: https://muslim604.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/olaudah-equiano-on-the-ottomans). What they show in Dirilis is not accurate for sure.
I enjoy watching Dirilis. I am now on season 4. I know it is just a television show with fact and fiction, but it gave me a knowledge of the Muslim faith that I never knew- which is a good thing.
You mentioned the series Yunus Emre-
I watched that as well and absolutely loved it.
Television programming in the US is foul and vulgar. To watch these series is refreshing and to learn from these series is even better.
I am thankful they were produced and thankful to have been able to watch them.
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Thanks for your comment! 🙂
I think the review comes from the mindset that “human feelings” are irrelevant and you have dismissed the subplots of the females as unimportant. I feel quite offended that many asian men have a propensity to do that whereas, Islam puts a high value on human emotion – I was quite disappointed with your review. If you do not show jealousy, greed. ambition as a subplots, how can you show what is better or what is the preferred route? I am not a softy but my experience has taught me that Islam values human gentleness / emotion and the “human heart” greatly – as well as the emotion of love. If the intellect and aql is highly regarded, so is the spiritual heart – and this holds the answers to many conflicts and this is where, many men fall short – they think it “soft and mushy” and so forget that Allah swt loves purity of feeling, as long as it is guided with the right intention. I on the other hand, think the show is absolutely brilliant and give it a 5/5 – I cannot fault it at all. It makes compelling watching for too many reasons to list.
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Thanks for your comment! Yeah, what you wrote makes a lot of sense. I guess my issue wasn’t with the drama per se, it was with the fact that a lot of the drama subplots were kind of contrived. At times it felt like the show writers were making those poor women butt heads with each other unnecessarily. It’s a classic case of the characters driving the plot vs the plot driving the characters. As for what you said about the heart, love, and human emotion – you’re absolutely right, and jazakillah khairan for your insights.
I’m a guy and I loved the women’s scenes. The women were very nuanced and determined without being masochistic as in western shows portrayal of “strong women”. Ertugrul’s romance with Halime was a highlight rather than detraction from the show. Agree with the inappropriate hand holding and unmarried couples being alone but I’ll give the directors the liberty of artistic license. Great writing, so many plot twist and turns that my private joke was trying to predict the next time an actor would state something, pause then say “Lakin” (Arabic/turkish word for “but or however”). Characters were very well written and didn’t make illogical decisions including the villains. Action scenes were average but to be honest were a minor part of the entertainment. I’ve watched a lot of entertainment for 45+ years and this show ranks among the best in fact it’s the only show I’ve binge watched over 2 weeks. 4.5 rating in my opinion and 0.5 deducted for the bad subtitled English in the last 3rd of the season.
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I agree with F I cannot fault the show, its so inspiring and beautifully depicts the relationship/dynamic between men and women in the kayi tribe. Those scenes are integral viewing, disregarding it means you’re not understanding or appreciating the role women play in society as mothers, sisters, wives etc. All those subplots depict real life societal issues that exist within families and wider society.
Ertugrul love for halime aswell as his tribal values increase his sense of being just and true. It shows when Allah sends you someone with a pure heart it brings you closer to Allah.
On another note why focus on the lack of hijab on the women?, they’re in full length loose clothing and cover their heads. And behave very modestly. Most importantly they’re God fearing (bar selcun). Im very happy with the strength and faith in Allah the characters display. It’s certainly given me a spiritual boost.
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Good points, thanks for your comment 🙂
A misogynistic review. You avoided watching the women and lost half the story!!
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I agree with Fatima. – you missed half the plot. How could there have been children if there was no women? How could the children/men be warriors, without strong minded woman? (Selcan). Maybe the writer has no wife/mother/sisters/daughters? How can you totally disregard the female input?
I am not a Muslim, but Iove this show and all of the fascinating angles of 12th century pre-Ottoman nomadic life and Islam it presents. As regards the wearing of the hijab by the women, I think they have rather traded truth for glamour in order to attract Western Netflix viewers like me. The differing head-coverings also help us to differentiate between the women. I rather like the women’s stories and there is a healthy range of difference between them; the warrior-killed Aykiz, Ana Hayme, who is wise, knowing and loving and of course, the wicked Selcan. I like also that the women are not merely ciphers, but move the plot forward together with the male characters. I think the acting, direction and production is of excellent quality, with wonderfully choreographed fight scenes. If one can move beyond the subtitles (which are badly translated), this is a fabulous opportunity to learn more about this history and learn some Turkish into the bargain.
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It’s just a series enjoy it why read so much into it, if you want to analyse it from an Islamic perspective then switch it off.
Yusuf, good review, well what i feel most disappointed so far in this first season is of the probably exaggerated roles of female characters, too much conspiracies and baseless love feelings. And it’s pace is painfully slow, it runs like a turtle. Furthermore, not so very pleased with the noisy background music through out running in the background, it should have been better and used it when it requires.
I don’t know exactly but in my knowledge; Ottomans started to manage or write their own history after almost 1 hundred years of it’s rule so can we believe it that it’s the based on true events or near to true or it’s just fiction? Please guide me in this regard as I’m not a Turk But a muslim and love to know about History especially Islamic history.
I so far stop myself to watching it and trying to convince myself to watch it further : – )
Thanks for the comment! I’m not aware of any English language histories of the very early Ottoman period. The problem is there’s so little written records to go by. I’ll let you know if I ever find anything In Sha Allah.
Honestly, Its been running for long time. 2014- 2019 to be specific, it has those romance scenes because they don’t really have an accurate history and script. I also recommend watching the sequel Kurulus Osman, Osman is son of ertugrul and founder of ottoman empire.
I don’t like your review Yusuf you missed lots of points here..