Ghazis (Turk. Gazi) were Muslim warriors who fought to uphold and expand the Islamic faith in the medieval Arabic and Turkish periods down to the early Ottoman centuries, inclusive of the crusading period.
It should be noted that the fighters of the twelfth-century Muslim rulers such as Zangi, Nur al-Din, and Saladin were not composed of ghazis, but of professional Turkish and Kurdish soldiers. The term ghazi originates from Arabic ghazw[a], meaning a military expedition or raid, and is connected with ghaza or “holy war,” otherwise mostly referred to in Arabic as jihad. The holy war was waged from the “abode of the true faith” (Arab. dar al-Islam) against the “abode of confrontation” (Arab. dar al-Harb) against both infidels and heretics, but, as was to be expected, often ghazi bands degenerated into wandering bands of brigands and freebooters.
During the wars of the Arabs and Turks against the Byzantines, the ghazis were thought to be the equivalent of the Byzantine akritai (frontier guards). The first known Muslim ghazi to perish against the Byzantines, at the battle of Akroinon (740) was the semi-legendary ‘Abd Allah al-Battal (from hattdl, “hero,” “the brave one”). From the ninth century onward, the ‘Abbasids introduced Turkish mercenaries and slave soldiers into their armies, with the result that Arabo-Byzantine battles eventually developed into Turco-Byzantine warfare.
In early Turkish times (eleventh century onward), the ghazis became fighters of the frontier zone (Turk. uc, “borders”) under their leaders (udj heys) especially in central Asia (among the Samanids and Ghaznavids) and in Anatolia (chiefly among the Turcoman bands of the Saljuqs of Rum and the Danishmendids).The first pre-Ottoman ghazi state in Anatolia following the defeat of the Byzantine Empire at Mantzikert (1071) was that of the Danishmendids under their first two notable emirs, Malik Danishmend Ghazi and Amir Ghazi Gumushtegin, when the local ghazi element was reinforced by the massive immigration of Oghuz tribes from the East. Gradually, the “ghazi corporations” of Anatolia became closely associated with the mystic futuwwa (organizations influenced by Sufi Islam), especially following the reforms introduced around 1200, by the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Nasir, whereby a special investiture conferred the title of ghdzi and granted weapons and insignia. Ghazi ideology survived the collapse of the Saljuq sultanate of Rum and the Ilkhanid Mongols of Persia (late thirteenth century) and was transmitted in the period of the Turcoman principalities (known as emirates or beyliks), as well as in the early Ottoman emirate, which was to emerge as the strongest of these principalities. Important texts describing the Turcoman and Ottoman ghazis as divine instruments of Allah’s will have survived in Aflaki’s Manakih al-arifin (Virtues of the Gnostics) and in the works of the early Ottoman historians Ahmedi, Yakhshi Fakih, Ashikpashaz-ade, and Uruj. The first three Ottoman sultans (Osman I, Orhan, and Murad I) added the honorific title of ghdzi to their names.
-Alexios G. C. Savvides
See also: Danishmendids; Ottoman Empire; Rum, Sultanate of; Ottoman Empire
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