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Illustration of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, rallying Ghazi warriors into battle.

Ghazi or ghazah (plural ghazawāt; Arabic: غزو‎) is an Arabic term that means "to raid." From it evolved the word "Ghazw" which specifically refers to battles led by the Islamic prophet Muhammad.[1]

In English language literature the word often appears as razzia, deriving from French.

In the context of the wars between Russia and the Muslim peoples of the Caucasus, starting as early the late 18th century's Sheikh Mansur's resistance to Russian expansion, the word usually appears in the form gazavat (газават).[2]


Ghazi warrior

Ghāzī (Arabic: غازى‎) is an originally Arabic word, from ghazā (contracted from *ghazawa), which according to the Hans Weihr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic translates to "strive," "aspire," "carry out" or to "mean/intend." The related word gazawan "to carry out a military expedition" is derived from this root. Ghazi shares a similar meaning to Mujahid or "one who struggles."

Also: The term ghāzī 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 ultimately 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." (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.


The word razzia is used in French colonial context particularly for Muslim raids to plunder and capture slaves from African peoples of Western and Central Africa, also known as rezzou when practiced by the Tuareg. The word was adopted from ġaziya of Algerian Arabic vernacular and later became a figurative name for any act of pillage, with its verb form razzier.

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 some 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).

Contemporary usage in Chechnya

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

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)

See also


  1. ^ Aboul-Enein, H. Yousuf and Zuhur, Sherifa,"Islamic Rulings on Warfare", Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Diane Publishing Co., Darby PA, ISBN 1-4289-1039-5 pg. 6.
  2. ^ The Background of Chechen Independence Movement II: The Sufi Resistance

Further reading

  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain. [1]
  • RoyalArk- Ottoman Turkey
  • "Ghazw" (CD-ROM v. 1.0 ed.). 1999. 
  • "Ghāzī" (CD-ROM v. 1.0 ed.). 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. 
  • Rid, Thomas.  Razzia. A Turning point in Modern Strategy Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol 21, Iss 4, p. 617-635


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also razzia


German Wikipedia has an article on:

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From Arabic غزوة (ğázwa), raid, invasion.


Razzia f. (genitive Razzia, plural Razzien)

  1. (police) raid


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