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Ghazw

By:
Asʿad AbuKhalil
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Ghazw

From an Arabic word that means “to want,” ghazw came to denote expeditionary raids by bedouin tribes against a rival tribe. A corrupted version of the word found its way into French (rezzou) and English (razzia). Originally, ghazw referred to the classical form of nomadic attacks against another tribe for the attainment of booty. In pre-Islamic times (and afterward) ghazw was conducted according to a strict form of tribal etiquette and protocol. Nomadic raids were not always accompanied with bloodshed, because every tribe had to rely on this practice for its livelihood. It was a measure of protection against the harsh and unpredictable changes in climate. Camels were the most common desirable booty. The major ghazw occurrence was usually preceded by miniraids to warn the rival tribe of an incoming ghazw. Most ghazw were successful, because the element of surprise was absent to avoid violent confrontations.

The word (or its variants, like maghāzī or ghazawāt) was later used to denote the series of military campaigns that helped in the expansion of the Islamic empire. Muslim apologists wish to dissociate the military campaigns by early Muslims from the classical nomadic raids, although it is clear that early Muslims were motivated at least partly by the promise of booty and plunder. Islamic historiography downplayed the classical ghazw element from what was portrayed as pure jihād (war against nonbelievers).

Ghazw should be distinguished from other forms of nomadic warfare, like those motivated by acquisition of additional territory or by blood feuds. It is limited in duration and purpose. Ibn Mandhūr in Lisān al-ʿArab traces the origin of the word to a word that means to seek and want. Later military campaigns by Islamic armies for the defense and expansion of the state gave a new meaning to the word. It then denoted marching toward an enemy and fighting it.

Associated with the practice of ghazw is the elaborate system of distribution of the spoils (ghanāʿim or anfāl) gained from a battle. The prophet Muḥammad did not deprive his troops of the spoils, as they were to receive four-fifths of the entire booty, with the remainder belonging to God (Qurʿān 8.41). In Muḥammad's lifetime, the latter portion went to him. After Muḥammad's death, there was no consensus among scholars of jurisprudence on the exact interpretation of the cited Qurʿānic verse. They could not agree on whether the imam should receive the one-fifth of the spoils that belonged to God.

Ghazw was such an integral part of the nomadic lifestyle that it was detailed and celebrated in poetry and prose. The decline of the nomadic lifestyle and the rise of the modern state that monopolized the use of force in society almost ended this practice.

In modern linguistic usage, the word is used to denote what the English words “raid,” “invasion,” and “aggression” mean. In some contemporary usages, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is referred as ghazw Lubnān (invasion of Lebanon). Sometimes ghazw is used to refer to any hostile movement. There have been many books written in the second half of the twentieth century with titles like Al-ghazw al-fikrī (cultural or thought-related invasion) in reference to the Western influence on Arabic thought, which is deemed to be harmful by most Islamic fundamentalist thinkers and writers.

See also JIHāD.

Bibliography

  • ʿAsali, Bassam al-. Al-Madhab al-ʿAskarī al-Islāmī (The Islamic Military Doctrine). Beirut, 1993.
  • Balādhurī. Futūḥ al-Buldān (Conquest of Countries). 3 vols.in 1. Al-Qahirah, 1956.
  • Berkey, Jonathan P.The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600–1800. New York, 2002.
  • Bonner, Michael. Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice. Princeton, N.J., 2006.
  • Dickson, H. R. P.The Arab of the Desert. London, 1949. Description of the life styles of nomads, including the customs of ghazw.
  • Donner, Fred McGraw. The Early Islamic Conquests. Princeton, N.J., 1981. Useful description of early Muslim military/political campaigns, drawing on Islamic sources.
  • Musil, Alois. The Manners and Customs of the Rwala Bedouins. New York, 1928. Description of the social and military customs of a classic bedouin group.
  • Wāqidī, Muḥammad ibn ʿUmar al-. Kitāb al-Maghāzī lil-Wāqidī. Edited by Marsden Jones. London, 1966. Classic Arabic source on the subject from which all other sources derive.
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