Ghazw or Ghazah (plural ghazawāt) (غزو) was originally an Arabic term referring to the battles in which the Islamic prophet Muhammad personally participated. It has since evolved into a term for battle associated with the expansion of Muslim territory. The term ghāzī or Warrior for the faith came to represent participants in these later battles and is cognate with the terms ghāziya and maghāzī. In modern Turkish the word means "veteran".

Sirya (plural Saraya) were battles which Muhammad commissioned but did not participate in, and also the name for the usually mounted raiding and reconnaissance expeditions he commissioned but did not participate in.

Ba'atha differed from Saraya in size, and while were sometimes combative were generally expeditions or missions primarily diplomatic in nature (i.e couriers or political exchanges).

In English language literature the word often appears as razzia, deriving from the French word razzier (rezzou) which entered the language at the time of the French colonization of North Africa, and which is itself a transliteration of the colloquial Arabic word ghazya. "Ghazawat" in some Muslim countries has the meaning of "Judgement".

Ghazi warrior

Ghāzī (غازى) is an originally Arabic word, from ghazā (contracted from *ghazawa) = "he raided" or "he made war", and was also adopted by such languages as Turkish for Muslims vowed to combat non-believers. As such it is essentially equivalent to Mujahideen: waging jihad bis-saif, i.e. holy war.

For the ghāzīs in the marches, it was a religious duty to ravage the countries of the infidels who resisted Islam, and to force them into subjection. (Cambridge History of Islam, p. 283)


After the conquests had come to an end, the legal specialists laid down that the Caliph had to raid enemy territory at least once a year in order to keep the idea of jihad alive. (Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam: A Reader, p. 3)

The ghāzī warrior dates to at least the Samanid period, where he appears as a mercenary and frontier fighter in Khorasan and Transoxiana. Later, up to 20,000 of them took part in the Indian campaigns of Mahmud of Ghazni.

Ghāzī warriors depended upon plunder for their livelihood, and were prone to brigandage and sedition in times of peace. The corporations into which they organized themselves attracted adventurers, zealots and religious and political dissidents of all ethnicities. In time, though, soldiers of Turkic ethnicity predominated, mirroring the acquisition of Mamluks, Turkic slaves in the Mamluk retinues and guard corps of the caliphs and emirs and in the ranks of the ghazi corporation, some of whom would ultimate rise to military and later political dominance in various Muslim states.

In the west, Turkic ghāzīs made continual incursions along the Byzantine frontier zone, finding in the akritai (akritoi) their Greek and Armenian counterparts. After the Battle of Manzikert these incursions intensified, and the region's people would see the ghāzī corporations coalesce into semi-chivalric fraternities, with the white cap and the club as their emblems. The height of the organizations would come during the Mongol conquest when many of them fled from Persia and Turkistan into Anatolia.

As organizations, the ghazi corporations were fluid, reflecting their popular character, and individual ghāzī warriors would jump between them depending upon the prestige and success of a particular emir, rather like the mercenary bands around western condottiere. It was from these Anatolian territories conquered during the ghazw that the Ottoman Empire emerged, and in its legendary traditions it is said that its founder, Osman I, came forward as a ghāzī thanks to the inspiration of Shaikh Ede Bali.

In later periods of Islamic history the honorific title of ghāzī was assumed by those Muslim rulers who showed conspicuous success in extending the domains of Islam, and eventually the honorific became exclusive to them, much as the Roman title imperator became the exclusive property of the supreme ruler of the Roman state and his family.

The Ottomans were probably the first to adopt this practice, and in any case the institution of ghazw reaches back to the beginnings of their state:

By early Ottoman times it had become a title of honor and a claim to leadership. In an inscription of 1337 [concerning the building of the Bursa mosque], Orhan, second ruler of the Ottoman line, describes himself as "Sultan, son of the Sultan of the Gazis, Gazi son of Gazi… march lord of the horizons." The Ottoman poet Ahmedi, writing ca. 1402, defines a gazi as "the instruments of God's religion, a servant of God who cleanses the earth from the filth of polytheism… the sword of God." (Lewis, The Political Language of Islam, pp. 147–148, note 8)

The first nine Ottoman chiefs all used Ghazi as part of their full throne name (as with many other titles, the nomination was added even though it did not fit the office), and often afterwards. However, it never became a formal title within the ruler's formal style, unlike Sultan ul-Mujahidin, used by Sultan Murad Khan II Khoja-Ghazi, 6th Sovereign of the House of Osman (1421 - 1451), styled 'Abu'l Hayrat, Sultan ul-Mujahidin, Khan of Khans, Grand Sultan of Anatolia and Rumelia, and of the Cities of Adrianople and Philippolis. Because of the political legitimacy that would accrue to those bearing this title, Muslim rulers vied amongst themselves for preeminence in the ghāziya, with the Ottoman Sultans generally acknowledged as excelling all others in this feat:

For political reasons the Ottoman Sultans — also being the last dynasty of Caliphs — attached the greatest importance to safeguarding and strengthening the reputation which they enjoyed as ghāzīs in the Muslim world. When they won victories in the ghazā in the Balkans they used to send accounts of them (singular, feth-nāme) as well as slaves and booty to eastern Muslim potentates. Christian knights captured by Bāyezīd I at his victory over the Crusaders at Nicopolis in 1396, and sent to Cairo, Baghdad and Tabriz were paraded through the streets, and occasioned great demonstrations in favour of the Ottomans. (Cambridge History of Islam, p. 290)

Ghazi was also used as a title of honor in the Ottoman empire, generally translated as the Victorious, for military officers of high rank, who distinguished themselves in the field against non-Moslem enemies; thus it was conferred on Osman Pasha after his famous defence of Plevna in Bulgaria.

Two Muslim rulers (in Afghanistan and Hyderabab)) personally used the subsidiary style Padshah-i-Ghazi.

The title was also assigned to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, even though he was a secular politician.

Maghāzī literature

Maghāzī, which literally means "campaigns", is typically used within Islamic literature to signify the military campaigns conducted by Muhammed during the post-Hijra phase of his career. The record of these campaigns, constitutes its own genre of prophetic biography within Islamic literature distinct from the sira. A famous example of the genre is the Maghāzī of al-Waqidi.


When performed within the context of Islamic jihad warfare, the ghazw's function was to weaken the enemy's defenses in preparation for his eventual conquest and subjugation. Because the typical ghazw raiding party often did not have the size or strength to seize military or territorial objectives, this usually meant sudden attacks on weakly defended targets (e.g. villages) with the intent of terrorizing/demoralizing their inhabitants and destroying material which could support the enemy's military forces. Though rules of war in Islam's rules of warfare offered protection to non-combatants such as women, monastics and peasants (in that, generally speaking, they could not be slain), their property could still be looted or destroyed, and they themselves could be abducted and enslaved (Cambridge History of Islam, p. 269):

The only way of avoiding the onslaughts of the ghāzīs was to become subjects of the Islamic state. Non-Muslims acquired the status of dhimmīs, living under its protection. Most Christian sources confuse these two stages in the Ottoman conquests. The Ottomans, however, were careful to abide by these rules... Faced with the terrifying onslaught of the ghāzīs, the population living outside the confines of the empire, in the 'abode of war', often renounced the ineffective protection of Christian states, and sought refuge in subjection to the Ottoman empire. Peasants in open country in particular lost nothing by this change.
Cambridge History of Islam, p. 285

A good source on the conduct of the traditional ghazw raid are the medieval Islamic jurists, whose discussions as to which conduct is allowed and which is forbidden in the course of warfare reveal some of the practices of this institution. One such source is Averroes' Bidāyat al-Mujtahid wa-Nihāyat al-Muqtasid (translated in Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam: A Reader, Chapter 4).

Related terms

  • Akıncı: (Turkish) "raider", a later replacement for ghāzī
  • al-'Awāsim: the Syrio-Anatolian frontier area between the Byzantine and various caliphal empires
  • ribāt: fortified convent used by a militant religious order; most commonly used in North Africa
  • thughūr: an advanced/frontier fortress
  • uj: Turkish term for frontier; uj begi (march lord) was a title assumed by early Ottoman rulers; later replaced by serhadd (frontier)

Contemporary usage


During the Second Chechen War, Chechnya announced gazawat against Russia.


See also

Sources and references

  • RoyalArk- Ottoman Turkey
  • (1999). .
  • (1999). .
  • Lewis, Bernard (1991). The Political Language of Islam. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-47693-6., p. 74
  • Firestone, Reuven (1999). Jihad: The Origins of Holy War in Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512580-0., p. 34
  • Peters, Rudolph (1996). Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam: A Reader. Markus Wiener Publishers. ISBN 1-55876-109-8.
    • Averroes, Bidāyat al-Mujtahid wa-Nihāyat al-Muqtasid
  • Wittek, Paul; & Heywood, Colin, translator (2002). The Rise of the Ottoman Empire. Curzon Press. ISBN 0-7007-1500-2.
  • Holt, Peter M., ed. (1970). The Cambridge History of Islam: Volume 1, The Central Islamic Lands. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-07567-X.
  • Robinson, Chase (2002). Islamic Historiography. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62936-5.

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