Reclaiming Islamic Identity Through Islamic History

Thanks to popular Turkish historical drama series, Diriliş: Ertuğrul (Resurrection Ertugrul) and now, Kuruluş: Osman (The Establishment of Osman), regular Muslims and non-Muslims from around the world now know some of the histories behind Ottoman Empire.

We spoke with Dr. Stef Keris to find out more about the historical facts behind the series, and about Islamic identity from Islamic history. Dr. Stef Keris is a historian, specializing in Islamic Ottoman history is on a mission very much like Ertugrul the father of Osman the founder of the Ottoman Empire

Dr Stef is like the Ertugrul of the academic world. The only difference Etrugul uphold justice with his sword while Dr Stef upholds the truth about Muslim identity with facts and empirical evidence.

The Real Ertugrul and Osman

For many people around the world, the Ertugrul and Osman drama was an eye-opener into the history of the Ottoman Empire, and for non-Muslims, the series gave them insights into Islam that are not available in mainstream media.

However, how much of these drama series is based on historical facts and how much of it is fiction? We spoke with Dr. Stef Keris, a historian in the Islamic Ottoman history to find out.

“There’s a lot of truth in the shows. Facts are facts and the [tv producers] cannot change them. But of course, these are the romanticized versions of it, which Turkish series are known for. “

“The series is trying to attract people’s attention to something good, which is about the Islamic Empire. I think its closer to history and people get to know a little bit more.”

Correcting The Negative Perceptions Of The Ottoman Empire

Europe has taught its children that the Ottomans were bad. As a Greek schoolboy, Dr. Stef Keris was taught that there was nothing good about the Turks or the Ottomans. This has then led to think, ‘if everything is negative, there must be some positives in there.’ This later led him to find out more about the Ottoman Empire when he reverted to Islam in 1992.

“Even in the Arab world, the Arabs also learned a lot of negative statements and stereotypes about the Ottomans. Which are not true.”

“Which is why I started doing courses in Islamic and Ottoman history. I started doing them online. Only in the last three to four years, I traveled in the German and English speaking countries in Europe, and we did courses for schools and education institutes. “

“Now because of Coronavirus, I now have the time to put them online, Alhamdulillah. The first course is now online, with 14 series.”

“The first course is on Islam in Europe: How the Muslims came to Europe. From the history of Andalusia (Islamic Spain), to the Ottomans, to the Tartars. It also includes about the Vikings, how some Vikings became Muslim, and in the British Isles.”

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Islamic History Is Islamic Identity

According to Dr. Stef Keris, “history is identity.”

“You need to understand why you have this identity. Where does this identity come from? And what you will do with this identity in the near future.”

Dr. Stef Keris further emphasized the importance of history. “One-third of the Quran is about history. So this brings us back to why learning history is important.”

An Inferiority Complex Due To Lost Identity

“Many Muslims in Muslim countries have an inferiority complex towards the West. They think that Europe and America are the best on this planet.”

“And this is an inferiority complex because they do not understand that Muslims gave the Enlightenment to Europe. The Enlightenment, the Renaissance, came from the Muslim world.”

“The first university in the world came from [Muslim part of] Africa.” [The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco ].

“If we go back to Islamic traditions, we will understand that with Islam we became strong. Whereas the Western world became strong without Christianity. “

“Whereas now in the Muslim world, we are becoming weak because we are without Islam.”

Integration Not Assimilation

For Muslims living in the West and non-Muslim countries, Dr. Stef emphasized that integration is not the same as assimilation, and Muslims should practice the former, not the latter.

If you choose assimilation, then you will lose your Islamic and Muslim identity. “If we assimilate as Muslims, we become like the rest. The rest [of society] are non-Muslims, and we [Muslims] become non-Muslims and that is haram.”

“We have to be a part of every society we live in, that is a command from Allah. Integration is about being part of society, not hideaway.”

Essentially, a Muslim living in a non-Muslim land must retain his identity as a Muslim, practicing Islam and yet still contribute to the society he lives in.

“We should be strong in what we believe in [as Muslims]. We have our principles, and we should give [back to society] through our principles.”

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