Military Raid

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The raid, which is essentially a form of brigandage, was viewed in the Bedouin pastoral milieu as one of the few manly occupations. Termed ghazwa, (pl. maghazi), in Arabic, its purpose was plunder, not bloodshed, and it was not permitted during the sacred months: Dhu-l-Qa˓da, Dhu-l-Hijja, and Muharram (the last two and first months of the year), which were set aside for religious observances, and Rajab (the fourth month), which was set aside for trade.

Islamic literature, however, when referring to the ghazwa of the prophet Muhammad, makes no distinction between battle and raid. Before attacking a community, the Muslims would first proclaim a da˓wa or invitation, calling their opponents to accept Islam. Only those male polytheists who refused to convert were fought to the death; women and children were taken captive. "People of the book," such as Jews and Christians, were permitted to practice their faith, if they agreed to pay a poll tax, or jizya.

The title Maghazi is given to compilations which tell of the numerous raids and battles that Muhammad undertook to establish Islam in Arabia. The term has thus come to represent the achievements of Muhammad, and become synonymous with his life's work. Maghazi and ghazwa therefore are also used to signify events in the life of Muhammad. For example, "Ghazwat al-Hudaybiyya" concerns the conclusion of a peace agreement between Muhammad and the Meccans.

Muslim b. al-Hajjaj (d. 875), the famous compiler of hadith (traditions concerning the Prophet), listed the battles and raids of the Prophet under the title jihad, which literally means to struggle or strive in the path of God. Incorrectly translated as holy war, the term "jihad," in fact, is best understood in a spiritual context and includes such activities as fasting, charity, and meditation. The term Fath (pl. Futuh) is more appropriately used for wars of expansion such as the Arab conquests of Egypt, Syria, and Persia.

See alsoConflict and Violence ; Da˓wa ; Expansion ; Jihad .


Baladhuri, Ahmad b. Yahya. Futuh al-Buldan. Edited by M. J. De Goeje. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1866.

Faizer, Rizwi. "Expeditions and Battles." In Vol. 2, Encyclopaedia of the Qur˒an. Edited by Jane McAuliffe. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2002.

Hitti, Philip K. History of the Arabs, 9th ed. London: Macmillan, 1966.

Jones, J. M. B. "The Maghazi Literature." In Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period. Edited by A. F. L. Beeston. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Rizwi Faizer

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Military Raid

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