What is Dirilis Ertugrul and why does Imran Khan want Pakistanis to watch it?

An action-adventure full of sword fights, Dirilis is basically a Turkish Game of Thrones about the Muslim Oghuz Turks.
Updated 09 May, 2020

The Prime minister of Pakistan would like Pakistanis to watch a phenomenally popular Turkish television series called Dirilis: Ertugrul.

Imran Khan has been seen on tape, not only recommending the popular serial but insisting all five seasons should be dubbed in Urdu so that the general public can watch and understand.

This may have come as a shock to the Pakistani drama and filmmakers, who only a few years back had been lobbying to ban or limit Turkish serials like Ask-I Memnu (Ishq-e-Mamnu or 'forbidden love') and Hurrem Sultan because their popularity threatened to destroy a nascent but still fragile Pakistani industry.

So why does a populist leader like Imran Khan, recommend a foreign television show?

The reason may lie in a much publicised, behind the scenes meeting, where Prime minister Khan met with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad at UNGA.

The idea of an English language channel to counter the rising problems of Islamophobia and the very serious misconceptions about Islam and Muslims at an international level was floated by the three leaders.

An action adventure serial full of sword fights, Dirilis is based on stories of the Muslim Oghuz Turks, fighting invading Mongols, Christian Byzantines and the fanatic Knights Templar Crusaders in Anatolia (now modern-day Turkey) of the 12th century.

To put the timeline into context, Zaheer Uddin Babur, the founder of the great Mughal empire first reached Lahore in 1524. In 1258, Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad, the great Abbasid capital of the Caliph Haroun Rashid, washing its streets with blood and turning the river Tigris black with the ink of countless priceless books.

So what makes Dirilis Ertugrul so popular?

Often described as a 'Turkish Game of Thrones', Dirilis has a vast and obsessive worldwide fan following in 60 plus countries. Apart from diaspora Muslims in the west, the show has gained sweeping popularity in the Middle East, South Africa and surprisingly in South America.

Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Madura is an avid fan and was seen happily wearing the hat of a Turkish warrior or Alp on a recent visit to the sets.

Nicolas Madura on the set of Dirilis.
Nicolas Madura on the set of Dirilis.

The writer and creator of Dirilis, Mehmet Bozdag is an acclaimed filmmaker with links to Turkeys conservative ruling AKP party, and it is his ability to combine a deeper message of traditional Islamic beliefs with the swashbuckling story of a hero fighting against all odds that is the heart of its success.

High quality production values, talented actors who take their roles very seriously and a director that knows how to keep the audience on the edge of their seats in each episode, you can see why it’s an addictive combination.

The fights are a special feature and the producers spared no expense, using a famous Hollywood stunt team called NOMAD to train the actors and coordinate each clash with the bad guys

Set at the crossroads of empires, the show focuses on the figure of Ertugrul Ghazi, his family and friends.

Talking about this character, actor Engin Altan Duzyaten has said, "He was the father of Osman Gazi, founder of Ottoman Empire, which ruled the world for 600 years. And, actually, we do not have too much sources about that era. Our sources are just about 7 pages. We know that he was a real hero. For him, the limits were not an obstacle.“

Duzyatan himself is another key to the success of this serial, with only a few pages to go by the actor has created a memorable character, whom audiences root for no matter what background. Surprisingly non-Muslims are also great fans of Ertugrul, setting aside any cultural bias to enjoy the show for pure entertainment.

Duzyatan himself is another key to the success of this serial.
Duzyatan himself is another key to the success of this serial.

Muslims are usually portrayed as barbarians or tyrants in historical portrayals. Muslim countries either cannot afford to make such epics or filmmakers are not focused on history, hence the colonial, western perspective is dominant and to a certain extent internalised by viewers through constant repetition.

Take for example the recent spate of historical Indian movies; Alauddin Khilji the historic ruler of the Delhi Sultanate is projected as a crazed, carnivorous barbarian in the Bollywood movie Padmaavat.

Ranveer Singh as Khilji in Padmaavat.
Ranveer Singh as Khilji in Padmaavat.

While Khilji was a hard man, he was not unusual for his times and definitely not the uncultured barbarian that the lens of modern day Indian nationalism projects him through. For many, watching Ertugrul is like Alice walking through the looking glass; the Muslim characters are the ones making the good decisions, caring for the weak, standing for principles and defying oppression.

As with all fiction, historical accuracy is somewhere in the hazy middle.

What Dirilis gets right

Look deeper into the show and you will see that each episode delivers both spiritual and life lessons by allowing principle characters to talk directly about moral dilemmas and their resolution.

Another feature is the use of alims or scholars; in the earlier seasons, a fictionalised version of renowned Islamic scholar and Sufi, Ibne Arabi, is seen advising Ertugrul, while the later series show the local Imam or Khoja gives guidance.

These teachers appear at difficult times in protagonists’ lives and offer explanations of how to deal with the situation with examples from Quran and Hadeeth but most significantly from the life of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW). A lot of emphasis is also placed on Hazrat Ali whom the Turkish warriors consider their patron.

The most notable lessons from this serial are: maintain your orientation towards establishing justice, protect the innocent, trust in God and never give up. Perhaps the most popular quote is “The victory is not ours, it belongs to Allah”, a sentiment that resonates deeply with many Muslims.

At any given point in the story, Ertugrul is faced by three or even more sets of problems: family issues, conflicts within his tribe, all the while dealing with external enemies like the Templars or Mongols who are always plotting his annihilation.

Interestingly, there is usually a fourth political front, the enemy within. These are always Turks like Ertugrul , but because of their greed, pride or jealousy they are willing to commit any traitorous act to succeed.

The array of traitors make a fascinating subset of villains: there is Kurtoglu, who is secretly plotting with the Templars and the scheming adviser to the Seljuk Sultan, Emir Sa’d al-Din Köpek, followed by the almost comically delusional Ural Bey.

One of the most interesting members of this group is Beybolat Bey who played a powerful chief murdering and policing his own people with the enemy. Like many collaborators, he justified himself that he was saving his people by acting as a buffer with the Mongols.

Beybolat Bey (Ali Ersan Duru) is one interesting character.
Beybolat Bey (Ali Ersan Duru) is one interesting character.

Writer Mehmet Bozdag has avoided caricatures and created recognisable and surprisingly nuanced villains, who are not necessarily otherworldly evil.

For example, the formidable Nuyan and Aricbuka wish for Mongol dominance and revenge, the crusader Titus is a Templar (the extremists of their time) hoping to ignite another crusade. All of these villains are brave, intelligent and surprisingly spiritual, often shown praying or meditating.

While this serves as a sly compliment to Ertugrul who can overcome or at the least survive such fearsome and intelligent antagonists, it’s also a reminder that simply being a strong or brave is not enough; protecting the innocent and standing for justice are what sets a real hero apart.

The most notable lessons from this serial are: maintain your orientation towards establishing justice, protect the innocent, trust in God and never give up. Perhaps the most popular quote is “The victory is not ours, it belongs to Allah”, a sentiment that resonates deeply with many Muslims.

There are many incidents in the early episodes where Ertugrul straightforward approach lands him in near impossible situations but his determination to never ever give up eventually sees him through.

While this die-hard attitude is reminiscent of many heroic figures historical and fictional, what makes Ertugrul so different is that there are many times when courage, persistence, strategy and cunning are simply not enough.

Then its prayer and the guiding hand of fate that make a way out of hopeless circumstances. Whether he is caught in a poison filled room at Sultan Aziz’s Palace in Aleppo, or literally nailed to stake through his bare hand in a Mongol camp, the power of the prayers of the Sufis and his own direct and sincere supplications to Allah become his salvation.

The women of Dirilis Ertugrul are no damsels in distress

As in most stories about men, male bonding is a vital element; while ties of blood can disappoint the connection between friends, the brother of choice is what lasts. Ertugrul often states: “Forgiving a traitor is a crime against the innocent,” and this lesson of loyalty is reinforced through five seasons by the unflinching devotion of the Alps, Turgut, Dogan and Bamsi and Abdul Rehman.

The women of the story also provide an intriguing change from the usual orientalist stereotypes of Muslim women hidden in harems.

Powerful and willful, the ladies of Dirilis: Ertugrul are very different to the weeping females we see in Pakistani and Indian dramas but neither do they live up to the Game of Thrones analogy used to describe this show.

There is a noticeable change over the season 1, where earlier episodes show the lead female characters like Ertugrul’s wife to be, Halime Sultan with uncovered hair and even short sleeves, towards the latter episodes, the women’s hair is completely under the wrap of rather beautiful Turkish style hijabs.

An interesting historical parallel to this is illustrated by Ira Mukhoty’s book, Daughters of The Sun about the Mughal women and the slow historical slide of Muslim women into the realm of seclusion.

The Mughal women who were also of distant nomadic Chagtai Turkic and Timurid descent, were active, independent and powerful members of the state, their power remained but during Emperor Akbar’s time as Mughals settled into their roles as ruler, they too slid into respectful seclusion.

Powerful and willful, the ladies of Dirilis: Ertugrul are very different to the weeping females we see in Pakistani and Indian dramas but neither do they live up to the Game of Thrones analogy used to describe this show.

The women often act as Beys or chieftains in place of their husbands and brothers as required, they fight with swords or daggers and won't quietly marry any man chosen for them to please anyone even if it’s a sultan.

Despite the supposedly conservative setting and dangerous times, the women travel independently and preserving concepts of honour isn’t at the forefront of their lives.

However, all this freedom is tempered by the way none of the women are allowed to be independent rulers, both Aslihan Hatun and Ilblige Hatun inherit leadership roles but must eventually cede them on marriage.

Obviously the 12th century wasn’t the most enlightened of times but there have been queens throughout history who defied the pressures of the times by ruling independently.

It's not perfect though

While many hail the show as an example of “Islamic values“, there are a few aspects in the writing which don’t bare up to that declaration on closer inspection.

Islam places great importance on forgiveness but a lot of the action focuses on vengeful justice. The tradition of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) also encourages men to consult with their wives but the script doesn’t emphasise this despite giving the women strong roles.

In Turkey, the serial has also been at the center of controversy because members of the secular media have tried to ignore and belittle the series.

At an award ceremony, the team of actors were not allowed to speak despite winning, which outraged fans who claimed the elite, secular left was silencing the more conservative general public who loved the show.

Those familiar with Indian and Pakistani dramas will see some familiar elements with the usual jockeying for position and who will marry whom turf wars but they will also find a lot of positivity and friendship.

Islam places great importance on forgiveness but a lot of the action focuses on vengeful justice. The tradition of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) also encourages men to consult with their wives but the script doesn’t emphasise this despite giving the women strong roles.

Pakistanis will feel particularly at home because one of the leads in the season 5, Beybolat Bey (Ali Ersan Duru) bears an uncanny resemblance to our own Humayun Saeed.

Do you see it?
Do you see it?

The driving force behind Dirilis' popularity with leaders like Imran Khan may be the the sense of hope and revival against all odds that this story provides. Mired in difficult times like these, Dirilis seems to provides an inspirational balm to a collectively damaged Muslim psyche that yearns to take its place as a more powerful and productive member of the world community.

Even without the theology, Ertugrul is thoroughly entertaining and represents universal values of good over evil and surviving tough times through perseverance and that can revive the spirit no matter what your faith is or isn’t.

This article was originally published on 15 October, 2019.


Fizza Oct 15, 2019 11:40am
Great article! Dirlis Ertugrul has 5 seasons only, (not 6 as written above) all of which are available on Netflix with English subtitles. |Y| The entire series is a work of art and a thrill to watch with family and friends.
Khaled Oct 15, 2019 12:21pm
It's a very good serial. Might be the PM wants the people to watch it, as there is a lot of sword fight.
Naeemullah Oct 15, 2019 12:56pm
Yes, this is highly recommendable for everyone. I have seen all 5 seasons and was thrilled. Also it’s recommended to dub the Omar Serial about Hazrat Omar , which is even more thrilling than this one.
Saeed Raamay Oct 15, 2019 01:26pm
Standard of production, acting, direction, costumes, sets, drills, story telling, play write is just great. Unfortunately way above Pak dramas which are failing continuously and shamelessly failing on all above points.
Rana Talukdar Oct 15, 2019 01:28pm
May be good entertainment, but as per the review it seems if one sees it as an inspiration then there will be only desperation.
Careless Whispers Oct 15, 2019 01:56pm
Without any doubt one of the best Series........
Dr s khan Oct 15, 2019 05:34pm
Great idea to play such dramas or movies who may inspire the flocks of us pakistanis for our past glory
Adil JADOON Oct 15, 2019 06:21pm
I have watched 2 seasons. Better then all the other rubbish on TV. My favorite line is " o'lord please do not let oppression turn us into oppressors'
Farman Oct 15, 2019 07:23pm
We don't need imran Khan's advice in watching such a series..I have been watching this series since it was first aired in 2014.He should better advise his own party workers to watch and learn some ethics from this amazing series.
Maria maston Oct 15, 2019 07:43pm
Loved this show. One of the best series ive seen. Watched all 5 seasons and hooked from the beginning. Loved everything anout it. Estrugul, Turgut and Bamsi were my favorites
Sherry Oct 15, 2019 09:53pm
I loved binging this series. Entertained and educated from this epic drama. Brilliant really. ALMOST learned a bit of the language. Haha. CHARACTERS were intriguing. The choreography, fight scenes, sword play, archers...Wow. The actors horse riding abilities and the horses themselves are magnificent.
AbdulHaque Shaikh Oct 15, 2019 10:39pm
very entertaining, well produced and well directed drama. Can be watched with family and friends. I can clearly see that technical value of the drama is much better and that why it is popular world wide.
Eissa Oct 16, 2019 12:26am
Without any doubt, it's the best series I ever see in my life! Everyone every country should watch it. It's very beneficiary!
Leah Oct 16, 2019 01:56am
Without a doubt, one of the best series I have ever watched! I've just finished season 2 and can't wait to start season 3. The action scenes are so well choreographed and the acting is phenomenal! You don't have to be muslim to enjoy this series. I would highly recommend it.
Umair Ahmed Shaikh Oct 16, 2019 09:22am
I am not the fan of serials but this one is an exception. Indeed a lot of life lessons to learn from the series. Its a family entertainment for us and I am watching it with my wife and kids and they are thoroughly enjoying and learning great life lessons from it.
Rubina Oct 16, 2019 05:44pm
Good fantasy and revisionist history in drama, but sadly contrary to reality of past.
Ehsan Oct 16, 2019 07:59pm
How about supporting local industry to produce something that people can be proud of and able to relate
Anon Oct 17, 2019 12:40am
Good detailed article. And excellent idea by IK. Looks like exactly the kind of content we need to understand one era of proud Muslim heritage and history.
Lola Bryant Oct 17, 2019 01:09am
I love this show . This is great entertainment. Is it possible for this show to be shown with the actor speaking in the English language. I have seen all five seasons reading close caption. I would like to see this show again if it was in English language. What other shows can we look forward to seeing on Netflix?
Claudia Beatty Oct 17, 2019 01:27am
I have watched it twice. Best series ever!
Harun Oct 17, 2019 10:21am
This article is a desperate attempt to force our vulnerable people to switch to foreign serials instead of sticking to our own excellent home-grown TV serials. The Pakistani film industry as it is, has already been severely affected by the illegal availability of Bollywood films, and now IK wants to destroy our TV industry as well.
Osman Oct 17, 2019 05:48pm
Best Tv series without doubt. Watching it the 2nd time now
MoAzzam Oct 17, 2019 11:11pm
An excellent article. The article has perfectly captured the theme of Dilirus and it’s message. Very well done.
Owais Ahmad Aleemi Oct 18, 2019 09:28am
I do very appreciate them.
Ehsan Oct 18, 2019 10:46pm
Diriliş Ertuğrul was one of the best TV series in around the world, but unfortunately it's over. But the story continues in the kuruluş Osman series. If you interested in, You can watch it about 1 month later. #KurulusOsman
Pakistani Oct 19, 2019 02:56pm
Have watched all 5 seasons. Brilliant. Entertaining. Shows positive influence of Islam on the people living at that time. Not to be missed.
Logicalhuman Apr 22, 2020 12:08pm
Between Turkic, Hollywood and Bollywood serials and movies; Pakistan entertainment industry is just limited to Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
Laila Apr 22, 2020 03:38pm
Considering the strong role of women who were participants in their society, in battles and rheir homes, those familiar with Pakistani dramas probably won't be able to relate much. I find it amusing that Shahid Afridi now seems to think he is Turk saying "may we be like this once again". We weren't a part of that Shahid. How about you be a part of now, today? He is has said publically that while his daughters can indulge in sports for fun he will never allow them to compete at professional level, which is what he does for a living. Hypocrisy and ignorance of women's roles and abilities as per Islam still rule. Maybe this drama can start to change that a little bit?
Laila Apr 22, 2020 03:46pm
How is watching historically inspired drama of Muslim empires with strong male characters, and equally strong female characters, who are wilful, powerful and independent destroying our misogynistic and patriarchal TV industry with constant weeping passive weak females and oppressive irresponsible selfish male characters? Oh wait..
Mo Apr 22, 2020 03:51pm
Good entertaining series but the fighting scenes are too long, series 4 dragged on a bit and series 5 ended to abruptly
Saima Apr 22, 2020 04:04pm
Our TV industry has destroyed itself in recent years by producing crass serials with similar storylines.
akkers Apr 22, 2020 04:30pm
The problem with Pak dramas is that there is so much crying, back-stabbing and general negativity that they reduce the viewer to depression. Ertugrul is the perfect antidote to this.
AbdulHaque Shaikh Apr 22, 2020 08:06pm
Not only Pakistanis but all humanity and specially Muslims should see this story. It is story of people who founded an empire from small band of tent dwellers living in harsh land of Central Asia. Their story is how human being can overcome all odds of life believing moral values justice and hard work. This story is very popular among non Muslims of Latin America and North America as well.
ukasha rajpoot Apr 22, 2020 11:59pm
Great serial, very addicting though. PTV did a terrible job dubbing it. There is ton of talent in Pakistan, IDK why they could not find anyone. Watch the original with captions.
jaredlee007 Apr 23, 2020 08:36am
Pakistanis should watch this series and learn lessons, instead of being judgmental about what is or isn't Islamic. We have kept Islam in a 'Lockdown' state for several decades. It is time we overcome our insecurities.
Nelofar Apr 24, 2020 11:09pm
Love the Character of Ertugrul
Ahsan qureshi Apr 26, 2020 05:00am
Very interesting. Tells me about the Turks. It is fascinating, charming, pretty powerful.
Iftikhar Yusoof Apr 27, 2020 06:44am
Let us open our hearts and mind to learning and you will soon see your uplift spiritually for without an open heart civilization will succumb to wicked leaders.
only Apr 27, 2020 11:29am
bizarre. what kind of leader prmotes foreign owned tv content.
Usman Hameed Apr 28, 2020 09:24am
Pakistan TV and film should move away from Sas - Bahu fighting and cheap romance dramas and start focusing on historical shows particularly related to fall of Muslims and muslim empires. Turkish empire, Mughal Empire and others. This will help young people to evaluate and understand the reasons of current situation in Muslim world
Hamidullah Khan Apr 28, 2020 01:55pm
your question what kind of a leader promotes foreign tv serials, answer is all have in different ways, opening indian channels in pakistan or similar trukish plays have been rolled in on private channels and they still repeat as reminder. recommendation is not unusual...
Aman May 04, 2020 08:42am
I love watching it, i watched it all and now watching it again. I am proud of Turkish culture and their struggle towards uniting all Muslims against Mongols, Byzantine and fragmented but belligerent remains of Aubi (RA) kingdom. Muslims have great lessons to learn and they till can resolve their issues by uniting together and forgetting their internal feud.
Abdul Hameed May 05, 2020 12:56pm
How can I have Netflx as I live in rural area. PTCL not available? Evowingle has no signals.
Laila May 07, 2020 03:15pm
Can I ask why you are proud of Turkish culture? I mean pride is usually when you play a role in something or contribute or accomplish something. Maybe you should go travel and visit Turkey and see their culture and them reevaluate your views. We Pakistanis had no role in Turkish history or the Ottoman empire.
John May 08, 2020 02:34pm
Best show ever. Watched all seasons 3 times now. Justice, faith, loyalty, betrayal, revenge are strong themes. Development of characters and relationships shows deep insight and understanding of human motivations and behavior. The spiritual insights create sublime currents woven through this series. Inspired and moved me more than any Western film or series. They can't make this depth or sincerity. Highest praise to Mehmet Bozdag, truly inspired.
Zak May 09, 2020 04:05am
We should have more Turk, Iranian and Malaysian dramas.
Amaan May 10, 2020 10:23am
Amazing show, So relieved to see a show in which Muslims are not fanatical villains rather they are swashbuckling heroes. Happy to see strong female characters.
Faisal Haque May 10, 2020 07:49pm
great series. Pakistan can also contribute with high quality serials on the moghuls
Fairguy May 10, 2020 08:55pm
Ask the women to watch this serial and see if they watch.
Fairguy May 10, 2020 09:03pm
"founded an empire from small band of tent dwellers living in harsh land of Central Asia....: - and all of that was achieved through non-violence.
Fairguy May 10, 2020 09:05pm
Erdogan is determined that he will not let even the Turks feel proud.
Khayyam James Hussain May 12, 2020 03:19am
Dull show. Rather boring and glorifies conquest.
Zak May 12, 2020 06:24am
Pakistani dramas are very popular in middle east, Nepal, Sri Lanka and even in ethnic changes in the west. No outside dramas can destroy our industry. We should expose our public to our dramas from Iran, Turkey, central Asia. They are our cultural and blood link.
Zak May 12, 2020 06:26am
Began seeing Ertugrul, and got addicted. Seeing it in urdu was a real joy. The dubb was very good. Commendations. Will see it second time in English.
Dr. Aftab Hirani May 12, 2020 10:06pm
In what way are the turkish and iranian shows better than indian shows. Because of the religion factor ? That, alone, is a massive excuse for a 'different' culture ?
Ankur May 14, 2020 12:18am
So my Pakistanis have finally found their TRUE identity. They are Turks! And not arabs or afghans or other central asians. What's wrong in that?
P@K1ST@N May 14, 2020 09:05pm
It is a great effort by our PM and PTV to bring this great show dubbed in Urdu. We do need more of these kind of shows where they show the great Islamic heros as what was their history and how they emerged as heros. Pakistan has talent and resources and it will be great that next big show of same caliber like Dirlis Ertugrul is produced in Pakistan and is telecast throughout the world, on Netflix, and other major channels.
sz May 14, 2020 11:40pm
Your past glory? lol. Turkish hisotory got nothing to do with you. Your history as Pakistani is tied with India, a country you hate.