Ghāzīs (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 Zangī, Nūr al-Dīn, and Saladin were not composed of ghāzīs, but of professional Turkish and Kurdish soldiers. The term ghāzī 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 jihād. The holy war was waged from the “abode of the true faith” (Arab. dār al-Islām) against the “abode of confrontation” (Arab. dār al-Harb) against both infidels and heretics, but, as was to be expected, often ghāzī bands degenerated into wandering bands of brigands and freebooters.
During the wars of the Arabs and Turks against the Byzantines, the ghāzīs were thought to be the equivalent of the Byzantine akritai (frontier guards). The first known Muslim ghāzī to perish against the Byzantines, at the battle of Akroinon (740) was the semi-legendary ‘Abd Allah al- Battāl (from battāl, “hero,” “the brave one”). From the ninth century onward, the ‘Abbāsids 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 ghāzīs became fighters of the frontier zone (Turk. uc, “borders”) under their leaders (udj beys) especially in central Asia (among theSāmanids and Ghaznavids) and in Anatolia (chiefly among the Turcoman bands of the Saljûqs of Rûm and the Dānishmendids).The first pre-Ottoman ghāzī state in Anatolia following the defeat of the Byzantine Empire at Mantzikert (1071) was that of the Dānishmendids under their first two notable emirs, Malik Dānishmend Ghāzī and Amir Ghāzī Gümüshtegin, when the local ghāzī element was reinforced by the massive immigration of Oghuz tribes from the East. Gradually, the “ghāzī corporations” of Anatolia became closely associated with the mystic futuwwa (organizations influenced by Sufi Islam), especially following the reforms introduced around 1200, by the ‘Abbāsid caliph al-Nāsir, whereby a special investiture conferred the title of ghāzī and granted weapons and insignia.Ghāzī ideology survived the collapse of the Saljûq sultanate of Rûm 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 ghāzīs as divine instruments of Allah’s will have survived in Aflākī’s Manakib 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 ghāzī to their names.