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Muʿāwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān

By:
Khaled M. G. Keshk
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Muʿāwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān

Muʿāwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān, who ruled the Islamic empire from 661 to 680 CEis seen by Western scholars as either the first or the second Umayyad caliph, because ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān (r. 644–656 CE), was also an Umayyad. ʿUthmān, however, did not found a dynasty and is generally considered among the Rāshidūn (the term given to the first four rightly-guided caliphs, namely: Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, ʿUthmān, and ʿAlī). In addition, Muʿāwiyah and his line, which came to an end with the death of his grandson Muʿāwiyah II in 683 CE, are termed the Sufyānid in counter-distinction to the Marwānid line of the dynasty.

Muʿāwiyah was born, probably, in the beginning of the seventh century. His father was Abū Sufyān b. Ḥarb b. Umayyah b. ʿAbd al-Shams, the leader of the Umayyad clan of the Quraysh (the Prophet's tribe), and of the Meccan opposition to Muḥammad. His mother was Hind b. ʿUtbah b. Rabīʿā b. ʿAbd al-Shams, whom the stories in the sīrah (the biographies of the prophet Muḥammad) depict as being even more vociferous than her husband in opposition to Muḥammad. The Umayyad clan was, at Muʿāwiyah's birth, one of the more influential and affluent clans of the tribe of Quraysh.

According to most sources, Muʿāwiyah converted at the last possible moment, at the conquest of Mecca (630 CE), although some sources say that he converted earlier, in the year of Ḥudaybīyah (628 CE) but kept it a secret from his parents. He is known to have worked as a scribe for the Prophet but it was later, during the caliphates of Abū Bakr (632–634 CE) and ʿUmar (634–644 CE), that his career as a military governor began. He was given the whole of Syria to govern after the death of his brother Yazīd who was one of the leading commanders of the conquest armies. Muʿāwiyah was governor of Syria for almost twenty years, a long tenure in comparison to the other governors, before the start of the first fitnah (civil war) in 656 CE

With the assassination of the Caliph ʿUthmān in 656 CE, Muʿāwiyah was either thrust or thrust himself (depending on the source) into the leadership of the community of the faithful. It is generally accepted that the Syrians gave him the bayʿah (oath of allegiance) during the caliphate of ʿAlī, after the breakdown of the arbitration meeting during the first civil war in April⁄May 658 CE But it would be more accurate to say that he was recognized as caliph by a large portion of the Muslim community before the hostilities began at the Battle of Ṣiffīn in 657 CE After the assassination of the Caliph ʿAlī in 661 CE, Muʿāwiyah was given the so-called general bayʿah and was recognized by most of the community as caliph in July or September 661 CE He ruled for almost twenty years—a long time by the standards of other caliphs.

Most of Muʿāwiyah's rule was spent improving the agricultural output and the expanding the empire through military campaigns. There were a few internal political problems, such as the arrest and killing of one Ḥujr b. ʿAdī, but for the most part the empire remained stable internally. It was also under his rule that the winter and summer campaigns against the Byzantines were instituted. Muʿāwiyah tried further to insure stability in the realm by securing the oath of allegiance to his son Yazīd. Although most sources agree that he was able to secure the oath from the leading personalities, this did not translate into a smooth transition after his death in 680 CE In fact the empire was thrown yet again into a civil war.

Muʿāwiyah is one of the few early caliphs that non-Islamic sources mention by name, the earliest is an inscription of his name that has survived to this day. He is also one of the most controversial for both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars. Some modern scholars find Muʿāwiyah to have been an intelligent, politically astute leader who not only deserved the caliphate but rescued the Islamic empire by his shrewd policies. Others see him as a cowardly usurper who did not deserve the caliphate and debased the Islamic ideals in his takeover of the leadership of the community. This is the result of the historical circumstances that surrounded Muʿāwiyah's ascendancy to the leadership of the community. Muʿāwiyah came to power during the caliphate of ʿAlī, and it was Muʿāwiyah's son Yazīd who ruled when Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī, the grandson of the Prophet and one of Shīʿī Islam's most important leaders, was killed. These two incidents have maligned what otherwise was a competent general, mild mannered politician, and a true believer.

See also ʿALī IBN ABī TāLIB and UMAYYAD CALIPHATE.

Bibliography

  • Blau, Joshua. “The Transcription of Arabic Words and Names in the Inscription of Muʿāwiya from Ḥammat Gader,”Israel Exploration Journal32 (1982), p. 102.
  • Green, Judith and Yoram Tsafrir. “Greek Inscriptions from Ḥammat Gader: A Poem by the Empress Eudocia and Two Building Inscriptions,”Israel Exploration Journal32 (1982), pp. 77–96.
  • Hawting, G. R.The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate AD 661–750. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, ca. 1987.
  • Humphreys, R. Stephen. Muʿāwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān: from Arabia to Empire. Oxford: Oneworld Press, 2006.
  • Hirschfeld, Yizhar and Giora Solar. “The Roman Thermae at Ḥammat Gader: Preliminary Report of Three Seasons of Excavations,”Israel Exploration Journal31 (1981), pp. 197–219.
  • Hoyland, Robert G.Seeing Islam as Others Saw it: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam. Princeton: Darwin Press, 1997.
  • Keshk, Khaled. “The Historiography of an Execution: The Killing of Ḥujr b. ʿAdī.”Journal of Islamic Studies19:1 (2008) pp. 1-35.
  • Petersen, Erling Ladewig. ʿAlī and Muʿāwiya in early Arabic Tradition. Translated by P. Lampe Christensen. Denmark: Odense University Press, 1974.
  • Ṭabarī, Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-. Tārīkh al-rusul wa al-mulūk. Albany: State University of New York Press, c.1996. Vols. 15–19. Especially vol. 18.
  • Thomson, R. W. and James Howard-Johnston. The Armenian History attributed to Sebeos. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999.
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