Modern Style History Lessons on the Ottoman Caliphate

Lessons in history learned from school textbooks are often forgotten by the general masses.  Once imbued them with tales of love, struggles, and hope, they become powerfully ingrained in the minds of the everyday folks.

For non-Turkish Muslim viewers, watching their historical period dramas of the Ottoman empire add another layer of learning about the foundations, victories, losses and the last days of the Islamic caliphate. However, don’t expect full historical accuracy as stories are fictionalized for dramatic effects..  

Here are our top three favorite Turkish drama series  where you can learn about the rise and fall of the last Islamic caliphate:

1 –   Diriliş: Ertuğrul (Resurrection: Ertuğrul)

Ertuğrul is the father of Osman, founder of the Ottoman empire and is regarded by the Turks as the father of Turkey. The series is a historical fiction action-adventure based on their legend, dated in the 13th century. It’s often compared to the Muslim version of Game of Thrones. Ertugrul and his tribe have to fight against the invasion of Mongols, Knights Templars, and Byzantine commanders and establish a homeland in their new land, which is now Turkey.

The show is much loved by Muslims around the world, including in the West, primarily because of its a Muslim hero with Islamic values, trying to establish a Muslim homeland. It is his love for Islam, and battles against religious enemies and tyrants make his struggles admirable. There are five seasons altogether which ended this year and the series is set to continue with Diriliş: Osman, his son and founder of the Ottoman caliphate. For facts about the characters in the continuation of the Ertugrul series, his son Osman, in Kuruluş Osman, you can read about the historical characters here

2 – Payitaht: Abdülhamid (The Last Emperor)

The series is about the last Ottoman sultan to have effectively reigned over the Ottoman empire who tried to preserve it from foreign states, notably Britain, France, and Russia, from breaking up the empire and the Muslim unity. He was a devout Muslim who wanted to modernize the empire while ensuring the Islamic values are preserved. This included his railway project of linking Istanbul to Makkah. Notable takes on the series showed how the Jewish aspiration for their own nation, Israel, and the British, as their ally, have tried numerous assassination attempts and efforts to break up the Ottoman empire to enable Israel being established.  He also had to deal with rebellion from within his own state from young people who wanted to modernize the country.

This is a must-watch if you want to understand the beginnings of modern-day global politics.

To put things into perspective, the Ottoman Empire, at its peak, ruled over 20 countries such as Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Egypt, Eritrea, Greece, Hungary, Iraq, Jordan, Kosovo, Libya, Macedonia, Montenegro, Palestine, Serbia, Syria, Sudan, Tunisia, and Ukraine. However, Abdul Hamid ruled from 1876 to 1908, during the decline  of the empire which had lost many of the European countries.   

3 – Mehmetçik Kut’ül Amare

 Mehmetçik means little Mehmet, a fond term to describe foot soldiers. This drama series tells the story of the Turkish victorious siege of Kut al-Amara in Iraq during World War One (WW1). It’s notable that this was one of the few battles won by Turkey during WWI against the British and their allies, and so have been celebrated greatly by Turkey. 

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This story also shows the perspective of the people under the Ottoman Empire and how they aspired to have their own independent state. However, to do so, they had to conspire with the enemy of the state to achieve their goal. That is, conspiring with the British in order to defeat the Turks and have their own independent country.

Fans of Resurrection Ertugrul, you would recognize many of the cast members from that show in the Mehmetçik series.

Another interesting perspective from this drama is the role of Muslims as part of the British army during WW1. Specifically, the Indian Muslims (where India at that time consisted of Pakistan and Bangladesh as well) who made up a considerable number of British soldiers. 

4 – Fetih 1453

Although not a TV series, this Turkish movie is a must-watch for those who want to understand how the conquest of Istanbul came to be. It also explains how the Ottoman empire was expanded under Sultan Mehmet, known as Mehmet al-Fatih (al-Fatih means the opener in Arabic). 

All of these Turkish shows are available on YouTube with English subtitles, with Resurrection: Ertuğrul also available on Netflix.

5 – Kuruluş: Osman, The Establishment: Osman

 The drama series focuses on the life of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire, son of Etrugrul. As of today, the series is already it the third season. You can read about the facts about the characters in the Kurulus Osman drama series here.

6 – Barbaroslar – The Sword of the Mediterranean

Was Barbarossa a pirate as the Western historians have depicted him to be? Or was a Muslim hero, Naval Commander, saving the lives and lands of Muslims from the persecution of the European Christian kingdoms of Spain, Portugal, and Italy? This is a new series that started in October 2021, only in its first season.

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