The rise of Halal Entertainment with Turkish Drama

Turkish drama series are giving Hollywood and Bollywood a run for their money. Turkish tv dramas are seen in 100 countries, with 500 million viewers worldwide, and their export earnings from their TV drama series and films have reached USD 350 million, according to the Turkish cultural minister and Istanbul Chamber of Commerce. They are only second behind Hollywood, in terms of most widely viewed globally. 

Dubbed in Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America, Arabic in the Middle East, Urdu in Pakistan, Turkish serials are widely popular in these regions. Even in Western Europe such as Italy and Spain are dubbing it into their languages.  Other notable areas where Turkish dramas are popular are the Balkan states, where the Turkish Ottoman empire once ruled over. Shows in these countries are being bought and aired on their local TV channels. English-speaking countries, however, do not have such luxuries 

Turkish Delights With Turkish TV

What global viewers find delightful about Turkish dramas are the foundation of family, and traditional values protagonists hold on to while juggling with modernity. For period dramas based on the Ottoman empire, the quest for truth and justice and protecting the family are often the basis of their struggles. In addition, it is mostly halal entertainment with lack of nudity or lurid scenes. These values are often played down in Hollywood production which often promotes values contradictory to Islam and people of faiths. 

Not to mention, the actors and actresses are easy on the eyes and are equally, if not more, gorgeous than their Hollywood counterparts. Recently, a Turkish actor won E!’s TV top leading man over a Hollywood actor. 

Netflix and YouTube for Halal Entertainment

Although the new Ottoman-era series are becoming more popular in Turkey and across the world, as Turkey is still a secularist country with pride in Kemalism who valued Westernised values for its citizens. Hence, there are still non-halal elements in their dramas, such as kissing scenes, which are not done in other Muslim secular countries. Nevertheless, with the home-based and globally popular series of Diriliş: Ertuğrul (Resurrection: Ertuğrul), Payitaht: Abdülhamid (The Last Emperor), Yunus Emre, and Kuruluş: Osman ( transl. Establishment: Osman), these TV soaps show that series based on Islamic values are still much loved by Muslim audiences in Turkey and globally.

 Turkish dramas can now be viewed by Western, English-speaking audience, as Turkish TV series on Netflix with English subtitles. They are not dubbed, unlike those shown by the local TV channels. Some fans have also uploaded popular Turkish TV series with English subtitles onto YouTube, although some episodes may be missing. Interestingly, these are not being banned for copyright infringements by the TV channel owners or producers, unlike Hollywood-produced shows. Why so? 

The Politics of Turkish TV Soaps

Since the widely popular movie, Fetih 1453, was widely received in Turkey, and the rest of the Muslim world in 2012, there were more productions of the Ottoman era. Fetih 1453, which tells the story of Sultan Mehmet II who conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul) and fulfilled the prophecy of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). Other Ottoman-era productions have been produced and widely popular, including Diriliş: Ertuğrul (Resurrection: Ertuğrul) , Payitaht: Abdülhamid (The Last Emperor), Kösem Sultan and of course, Muhteşem Yüzyıl (Magnificent Century). The Turkish broadcasts and film industry are reviving their pride in their past glory of the Ottoman empire, and some of the popular series, Diriliş: Ertuğrul, are widely loved by fans globally, be they Muslims or non-Muslims alike. 

Modern-day dramas are also popular, such as Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne? (What Is Fatmagül’s Fault?) and Kara Sevda (Endless Love), which had been nominated for an International Emmy award.

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With Turkish dramas widely accepted abroad, this is seen by some as Turkey’s soft power. “Turkish stories” are being viewed globally and the narrative is that Turkey is a trustworthy leadership position in the world.  In 2018, the crown prince of Saudi, Mohammed bin Salman, has banned Turkish dramas from being aired in Saudi. He accused Turkey of trying to build a “Second Ottoman caliphate after Turkey ignored the Gulf countries’ economic blockade of Qatar. On the other hand, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is an avid fan of the series Resurrection: Ertugrul and has even met cast members and producers of the series.

Ottoman-era Turkish dramas are not aired in Malaysia, where dramas are set between the Islamic world and the Christian world often clashed. Even the movie Fetih, 1453, widely popular in the Muslim world was banned from screening in Malaysia due to worries of ethnic and religious sensitivities of the population of approximately 60% Muslims.  However, modern-day Turkish soaps are aired on local channels with Malay subtitles, but they do not have a strong fan base unlike Turkish dramas dubbed in their respective local languages.

Heroes We Can Identify With

When watching Hollywood movies o TV series, we, as Muslims, often feel alienated as Muslims are often portrayed as the bad guys, the terrorists, the anti-West.  If you’re interested to learn about history, but don’t have the tenacity to read history books, consider watching Turkish dramas on their Ottoman history of the Islamic Ottoman Caliphate.  

Only those who work as spies or informants for the Western governments are portrayed as the good guys on TV. So what happens to the rest of us Muslims who are neither the bad guys nor the good guys, that is those Muslim viewers who are neither terrorists, anti-Wests nor are spies or informants for the government? 

Thank God for Turkish soaps and movies, where Muslims are being celebrated for being Muslims and upholding Islamic values. We can now watch TV in peace and joy, without seeing any malignant Muslim TV or movie characters for simply being Muslims.

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