Recently, The Prime Minister of Pakistan expressed his wish for the people of the nation to watch the Turkish television series called Dirilis: Ertugrul during lockdown. State television then announced that the show will be dubbed and released in Urdu, accumulating a million subscribers on the its YouTube channel in no time (which have gone up to three million now).

That raised a couple of questions; What is it about and why should I watch it?

The protagonist of the show, Ertugrul, was the father of Osman I; who established the Ottoman Caliphate that went on to rule a major part of the world for the next 600 years.

The actor playing the lead role, Engin Altan Duzyaten, was quoted saying that there aren’t too many sources available about that era and that they had had just seven pages of history to go on. It isn’t told exactly as it happened, with a voluminous screen time of more than a 100 hours over five seasons. So forgetting the unwavering accuracy, the cultural connection is a huge factor and it must also have to do with the content I deduce. I researched further.

One reason for the popularity of the television series across different regions of the globe - Even the Venezuelan President was seen wearing the Turkish warriors’ hat on a visit to the set of the show – is due to the traits being depicted of the protagonist who was a ‘real hero’ and to whom ‘limits were not an obstacle’ as put by Engin Altan Duzyaten. Valor and steadfastness in the face of opposition are commendable attributes to assimilate.

Furthermore, many lead characters take refuge in Quran and Hadeeth during tough times for guidance. The show also portrays Muslim characters taking sound decisions, standing up for the weak and guarding the principles of humanity.

A detour from the infamous depiction of Muslims in popular cinema around the globe: For a quick reference, Alauddin Khilji is shown as a barbarian in the Bollywood production of Padmavat.

Thus, I conclude; the main reason for Imran Khan expressing his desire of indigenous viewership, and the overwhelming response of the people for Urdu viewership, is because of the show’s ability to inspire. To connect to our Muslim heritage. To make us aspire. And that touched a nerve of mine. We need our inspirations. It is an itch I have been wanting to scratch for a while.

Neil DeGrass Tyson, a prominent American astrophysicist in the acclaimed documentary series: Cosmos (2014), details how a Muslim scholar Ibn al-Haytham (965-1040 AD), ‘was the first person ever to set down the rules of science.’ He gave birth to the scientific method, without which, no scientific principle could take root. All the technological advancements we revel in today; getting a robot to travel to the edges of our solar system, to laugh at a joke posted by someone moments ago, thousands of kilometers away, through a screen in our hands, the mountain of things we take for granted, none of it would have been possible without Ibn al-Haytham laying the foundation for it. Take a moment to fathom that. To understand the true gravity of his contribution to the world around him, and beyond his time.

Although for one reason or another, Neil DeGrass Tyson in Cosmos also insists you entertain the possibility that “there is something out there,” I believe it is time we do some introspection. It is time we ask some fundamental yet deeper questions. Questions like; how much do we know about Ibn al-Haytham; the man who irreversibly changed the world? Why don’t we? Why don’t we know about the Ibn Sinas and the other Muslims scientists of the golden era? How many other influential figures, aspirational personalities, is our nation missing out on? Why don’t we truly know our cultural, religious and social heroes? Heroes whose life stories have inspired the world around them. Why aren’t we reaping the benefits?

Wondering when I will get to know my heroes, my cultural and national inspirations shine brightly, and light up the ways around me, is emblematic of me walking through a Natural History Museum with the electricity gone. The tour guide is on a break too. I can see a beautiful lion through a faint light coming in through the window, and can barely read some of the information on the plaque beside it. But I am not getting the whole picture. I want to know more. Can’t wait for the power to be back on so I can be mesmerized by its beauty. To know everything, I can about it. I cannot even see everything that is on display. I don’t even know everything that is on display to see. I need the light. And I can’t wait for it any longer. That is what it has felt like to me.

I am not saying that there aren’t inspirations and personalities to look up to around us, absolutely not, my problem is the lack of attention and effort given on educating us about them. Upon using them as shining beacons to light up our ways. To use what examples we could of them to make us dream and hope and strive for more. Without prejudice, without race, religion, ethnicity and gender to divide us in to groups. Inspire every Pakistani.

I believe it is the lack of inspirations, especially growing up, that makes our youth look elsewhere. If we don’t make them realize how incredible a human being Abdul Sattar Edhi was in the service of humanity, don’t be surprised when our kids are blazing “Get rich or Die trying” on their headphones. We all need inspirations at all ages. And we need all types of inspirations.

So now, what can we do about it. My wish and plea to the government of Pakistan is; to institutionalize the practice of educating in detail, inspiring though several methods, from an early age, about our religious, social and cultural inspirations.

For me as a Muslim, there never was, and never will be, any personality greater than the Holy Prophet (SAW). How much do we learn about his (SAW) lifestyle and teachings as Muslims growing up through our education system? How much do we know about the Companions of the Holy Propther (SAW). There is so much room to fill here and we need to start doing that before something else does, for our futures sake. We need to inspire the future doctors, the scientists, the philosophers, theologians and so much more. We just have to start showcasing the right things.  

I implore the producers, the directors, the writers and all the artists of Pakistan to take up these personalities and paint the canvas with their vigor like never before. Your neighbors, the ones occupying Kashmir and defiantly defying all humanitarian laws, were celebrating a boxer of theirs in Mary Kom in 2014. Where is my sportsman? Who made the Jahangir Khan film? The squash player, who arguably has the most dominant record of any athlete to grace an individual sport, ever. Captivate us. Teach us lessons. Make us proud. Make the hair on the back of neck rise. Make us weep, make us laugh, make us cry. Tell us through those stories how trials and tribulations are momentary. Prove to us once again that success is never achieved without failure. You just need to look at the right place. Inspire us. It’s your duty to this nation. I also appeal to the content creators and the YouTubers of the nation. Make your content to inspire. Take up national heroes. Stimulate our minds.

We all need to play our part. In whatever way we can. Nothing can move you like the right words at the right time. So next time you are going to be pick someone up who has fallen down, choose your words carefully. Be inspired to inspire. I must commend the effort of the Pakistan Super League in season 5. They were inviting national heroes and telling the world about them during the matches. That’s the goal really, to move in to knowing the real heroes and personalities around us whilst we learn from the past. To finish the analogy, I was referring to earlier; who wants to be in a National History Museum, even with the power back on, when you could experience the jungle. Nothing like actually hearing a lion roar.