Muawiyah Ibn Abu-Sufyan
معاوية ابن أبي سفيان

Mu’awiyah Ibn Abu Sufyan

The Companions of Prophet Muhammad
(Peace Be Upon Him)

Decorative Lines

Governor of Syria

Muawiyah I (Arabic: معاوية ابن أبي سفيان‎ Muʿāwiyah ibn ʾAbī Sufyān; 602 – 6 May 680) was the first Caliph of the Umayyad Dynasty. After the conquest of Mecca by the Muslims, Muawiyah’s family converted to Islam. Muawiyah is brother-in-law to Muhammad who married his sister Ramlah bint Abi-Sufyan in 1AH. Muawiyah became a scribe for Muhammad, and during the first and second caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar, fought with the Muslims against the Byzantines in Syria.

When Uthman ibn Affan, a second cousin of Muawiyah, became the third caliph, he appointed Muawiyah Governor of Syria. However when Ali was appointed the fourth and final Rashidun Caliph, he expelled Muawiyah from the Governorship. Muawiyah refused to obey Ali, and had some level of support from the Syrians in his rebelliousness, amongst whom he was a popular leader.

Ali called for military action against Muawiyah, but the reaction of the political classes in Medina was not encouraging, and thus Ali deferred. Eventually Ali marched on Damascus and fought Muawiyah’s supporters at the inconclusive Battle of Siffin (657 CE).

Ali’s son Hasan ibn Ali signed a truce and retired to private life in Medina. Muawiyah thus established the Umayyad Caliphate, which was to be a hereditary dynasty, and governed from Damascus in Syria instead of Medina in Arabia.

As Caliph, Muawiyah developed a navy in the Levant and used it to wage a war against the Byzantine Empire in the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The Caliphate conquered several territories including Cyzicus which were subsequently used as Naval bases. The war ended in an unsuccessful siege of Constantinople.

Muawiyah I is a reviled figure in Shia Islam for several reasons. Firstly, because of his involvement in the Battle of Siffin against Ali, whom the Shia Muslims believe was Muhammad’s true successor (see Succession to Muhammad); secondly, for the breaking of the treaty he made with Hasan ibn Ali, after the death of Hassan ibn Ali, one of broken terms being appointing his son Yazid as his successor; thirdly, on account of his responsibility for the killing of Hasan ibn Ali by alluring his wife Ja’dah binte Ash’as to poison him; and fourthly by distorting Islam to match his unislamic rule. and fifthly, for the deaths of various Companions of Muhammad.

Early life

Muawiyah bin Abi-Sufyan was born in Hejaz (602 CE) into the Banu Umayya sub-clan of the Banu Abd-Shams clan of the Quraysh tribe. The Quraysh controlled the city of Mecca (in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia) and the Banu Abd-Shams were among the most influential of its citizens. Muawiyah and the rest of his family were staunch opponents of the Muslims before the ascendancy of Muhammad.

In 630, Muhammad and his followers conquered Mecca, and most of the Meccans, including the Abd-Shams clan, formally submitted to Muhammad and accepted Islam. Muawiyah, along with his father Abu Sufyan, became Muslims at the conquest of Mecca when further resistance to Muslims became an impossibility. Some scholars hold the view that Muawiyah was the second of the two to convert, with Abu Sufyan convincing him to do it.

Muhammad welcomed his former opponents, enrolled them in his army and gave them important posts in what was to become the Caliphate. After the Prophet Muhammad’s death (632) Muawiyah served in the Islamic army sent against the Byzantine forces in Syria. He held a high rank in the army led by his brother Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan.


Muawiyah has a few rare virtues given to him by Prophet Mohammad, he was one of the prophet’s clerks. A narration also tells that the Prophet prayed to God in favor of Muawiyah: “Allahumma (O Allah) guide him and guide people by him.” This narration is in many Hadith (narration) books. Al-Dhahabi says that this narration has a strong predication (reference), and Al-Dhahabi also explained how some scholars mistook in saying that the narration is weak.. Al-Albani (a modern narrations critic) also said: all the men of the predication (reference) are trustworthy. and then he explained how the predication is strong.

Governor of Syria

Caliph Umar (Umar ibn al-Khattab) had appointed Muawiyah Ibn Abu Sufyan as governor of Syria. In the year 640, Umar appointed Muawiyah as governor of Syria when his brother died in an outbreak of plague. Muawiyah gradually gained mastery over the other areas of Syria, instilling remarkable personal loyalty among his troops and the people of the region.

By 647, Muawiyah had built a Syrian army strong enough to repel a Byzantine attack and, in subsequent years, to take the offensive against the Byzantines in campaigns that resulted in the capture of Cyprus (649) and Rhodes (654) and a devastating defeat of the Byzantine navy off the coast of Lycia (655). At the same time, Muawiyah periodically dispatched land expeditions into Anatolia.

According to the chronicler Theophanes the Confessor, Muawiyah I, after capturing Rhodes sold the remains of the Colossus of Rhodes to a traveling salesman from Edessa. The buyer had the statue broken down, and transported the bronze scrap on the backs of 900 camels to his home. Pieces continued to turn up for sale for years, after being found along the caravan route. All these campaigns came to a halt with the accession of Ali to the caliphate, when a new and decisive phase of Muawiyah’s career began.

Conflict with Ali

Muawiyah fought a protracted campaign against Ali, allegedly seeking justice for the assassinated caliph Uthman Ibn Affan. Aisha (Aisha bint Abu Bakr) (Muhammad’s widow), Talhah (Talha ibn Ubayd-Allah) and Al-Zubayr (Abu ‘Abd Allah Zubayr ibn al-Awwam) were all in agreement with Muawiyah that those who assassinated Uthman should be brought to justice. However, Ali claimed that he was not able to apprehend and punish Uthman’s murderers fearing rebel infiltration of the Muslim ranks. This resulted in Muawiyah refusing to acknowledge Ali’s caliphate.

Muawiyah did not participate in the campaign by Aisha, Talhah and Al-Zubayr against Ali that ended in the Battle of the Camel. The city of Basrah went over to them but they were defeated in battle by Ali. Talhah and Al-Zubayr were killed. Ali pardoned Aisha and had her escorted back to Medina.

Ali then turned towards Syria, where Muawiyah was in open opposition. He marched to the Euphrates and engaged Muawiyah’s troops at the famous Battle of Siffin (657). Accounts of the clash vary – however, it would seem that neither side had won a victory, since the Syrians called for arbitration to settle the matter, arguing that continuing civil war would embolden the Byzantines.

There are several conflicting accounts of the arbitrations. One account suggests that Muawiyyah’s army were ordered to adorn the tips of their swords with pages from the Quran in an attempt to confuse the army of Ali and prevent them from winning the battle. As a result, the army of Ali ceased fighting so as not to bring harm to the Quran. Muawiyah proposed a cease-fire which Ali agreed to and it was decided to end the conflict through peaceful talks.

In the meantime, dissension broke out in Ali’s camp where some of his former supporters, later known as Kharijites, felt that Ali had betrayed them by entering into negotiations. Ali set out to quell the Kharijites. At about the same time, unrest was brewing in Egypt. The governor of Egypt, Qais, was recalled, and Ali had him replaced with Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr (the brother of Aisha and the son of Islam’s first caliph Abu Bakr). Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr’s rule resulted in widespread rebellion in Egypt. Muawiyah ordered ‘Amr ibn al-‘As to invade Egypt and ‘Amr did so successfully.

When Alī was assassinated in 661, Muawiyah, as commander of the largest force in the Muslim Empire, had the strongest claim to the Caliphate. Ali’s son Hasan ibn Ali signed a truce and retired to private life in Medina. Muawiyah said later: “I never fought against Ali, only about Uthman’s death”. That was attested by Al-Sharif al-Radi in his book, he said:

In the war… When we met people of Al-Sham, it seemed that our God is one, our prophet is the same, our calling is the same, and no one is more of a believer than the other about believing in Allah, or the prophet. The misunderstandings were about Uthman’s blood, and we have nothing to do with it.

Al-Sharif al-Radi | Rule

In the year 661, Muawiyah was crowned as caliph at a ceremony in Jerusalem. Muawiyah governed the geographically and politically disparate Caliphate, which now spread from Egypt in the west to Iran in the east, by strengthening the power of his allies in the newly conquered territories. Prominent positions in the emerging governmental structures were held by Christians, some of whom belonged to families that had served in Byzantine governments.

The employment of Christians was part of a broader policy of religious tolerance that was necessitated by the presence of large Christian populations in the conquered provinces, especially in Syria itself. This policy also boosted his popularity and solidified Syria as his power base.

In a manner similar to Byzantine administrative practices, Muawiyah instituted several bureaucracies, called divans, to aid him in the governance and the centralization of the Caliphate and the empire. Early Arabic sources credit two diwans in particular to Muawiyah : the Diwan al-Khatam (Chancellery) and the Barid (Postal Service), both of which greatly improved communications within the empire.

According to Arab historian Ibn Kathir:

At the height of tension when fighting was about to erupt at Siffin between Imam Ali and Muawiyah, Muawiyah was informed that the Byzantine Emperor raised a very large army and was drawing very close to the borders of the Muslim state. He wrote to him, giving him a very clear warning, ‘By God, if you do not stop your designs and go back to your place, I will end my dispute with my cousin and will drive you out of the entire land you rule, until I make the earth too tight for you.’ The Byzantine Emperor was scared off and abandoned his plans.

However, other scholars contend that he simply placated the Byzantine emperor with offers of land, gold, and slaves.

Muawiyah died on May 6, 680, allegedly from a stroke brought on by his weight. He was succeeded by his son Yazid I. Muawiyah had held the expanding empire together by force of his personality, through personal allegiances, in the style of a traditional Arab sheikh. However Muawiyah’s attempt to start a dynasty failed because both Yazid and then his grandson Muawiya II died prematurely. The caliphate eventually went to Marwan I a descendant of another branch of Muawiyah’s clan.

Muawiyah and Mawalis

In accordance with the ways of Empire, Muawiyah favoured his Arab subjects over non-Arab Muslims (the Mawalis) – the discriminatory treatment of non-Arab Muslims by the victorious Umayyad forces are documented by both Sunni and Shia sources as in the example below concerning Muawiyah’s commands to his governor Ziyad ibn Abih.

Appearance and habits:

Shia Muslims and both several pro-Ali Sunni imams like Imam Nasa’i and more anti-Shia Sunni imams like Bukhari and Muslim, were of the opinion that Mu’awiya was lazy, gluttonous, and obese to the point of not even being able to ride a horse. Nisa’i and Sahih Muslim narrate a Sahih hadith, wherein the Prophet Muhammad summoned Mu’awiya who snubbed him and continued eating his meal – Muhammad then cursed Mu’awiya with the words: “May Allah never fill his belly!” Nisa’i was not the only Sunni scholar who accepted this hadith – there were many others, the foremost being the imams Bukhari and imam Muslim who compiled the Sahih of Muslim.

It has been argued that in the Arabic culture and language the expression is a colloquialism which means a wish that the person’s belly be so full of blessings of Allah (in the form of food) that his belly cannot take anymore, or that he wishes the persons blessings to be without an end. This is similar to the English saying of a father saying to his son in a soccer match to “Break a leg”.

However, the two pre-eminent Masters of Sunni Hadith, Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim, have rejected absolutely the latter apology for Mu’awiya, and Imam Muslim indeed places the Hadith-e-Muawiya in the Chapter of those Cursed by Mohammad.

Further, the Imam Nisa’i was murdered when he recited this Hadith in the presence of pro-Muawiya Arab-speaking Syrians as it was perceived as a curse of Mu’awiya, which debases the unreferenced suggestion that the term was a form of praise and not condemnation.[35]. Shias often question why there are no reliable precise accounts of Mu’awiya actually participating in any battles after his conversion to Islam – no names of enemies he personally defeated in combat are known.


Muawiyah greatly beautified Damascus, and developed a court to rival that of Constantinople. He expanded the frontiers of the empire, reaching the very gates of Constantinople at one point, though the Byzantines drove him back and he was unable to hold any territory in Anatolia. Sunni Muslims credit him with saving the fledgling Muslim nation from post civil war anarchy.

However, Shia Muslims charge that if anything, he was the instigator of the civil war, and weakened the Muslim nation and divided the Ummah, fabricating self-aggrandizing heresies[36] and slander against the Prophet’s family[37] and even selling his Muslim critics into slavery in the Byzantine empire.

One of Muawiyah’s most controversial and enduring legacies was his decision to designate his son Yazid as his successor. According to Shi’a doctrine, this was a clear violation of the treaty he made with Hasan ibn Ali, in which Muawiyah said he would not make his son his successor.

Muawiyah had a personal library collection (bayt al-hikmah) that was enlarged by his successors “throughout the Umayyad period. … This first major library outside of a mosque was known to include works on astrology, medicine, chemistry, military science, and various practical arts and applied sciences in addition to religion.”

Sunni view:

Many Sunni Muslim historians view Muawiyah as a companion of Muhammad, and hence worthy of respect for this reason, and a few Sunni Muslims take great issue with the Shi’a criticism and vilification of him. However, mainstream Sunni Muslims while refusing to adopt the negative Shi’a sentiment towards Muawiyah nevertheless quietly withhold according him religious status owing to his rebellions against Ali and al-Hasan, who are regarded as pious rulers. Finally,

Muawiyah transformed the caliphate from a consensus system with some emphasis on religious qualification into a hereditary and monarchical one with no such stringent requirement, by designating his son Yazid as his successor.

A Sunni hadith says:

Muawiyah who was really the best of the two men said to him, “O ‘Amr! If these killed those and those killed these, who would be left with me for the jobs of the public, who would be left with me for their women, who would be left with me for their children?” Then Muawiya sent two Quraishi men from the tribe of ‘Abd-i-Shams called ‘Abdur Rahman bin Sumura and Abdullah bin ‘Amir bin Kuraiz to Al-Hasan saying to them, “Go to this man (i.e. Al-Hasan) and negotiate peace with him and talk and appeal to him.” So, they went to Al-Hasan and talked and appealed to him to accept peace.

Sunni scholars[which?] interpret al-Hasan’s willingness to abandon his claims to the caliphate in favor of Muawiyah as proof that al-Hasan, Muhammad’s eldest and beloved grandson, did not go so far as to view Muawiyah an apostate, renegade or hypocrite.

Shi’a view:

The Shi’a view Muawiyah as a tyrant, usurper and murderer. His supposed conversion to Islam before the conquest of Mecca is dismissed as a fable, or mere hypocrisy. He is also described as a manipulator and liar who usurped Islam purely for political and material gain of his father’s loss. He was also widely regarded as a tyrant and usurper by both Shia Arabs and Persians, who despite being ruled by Sunni Arabs and their vassals for centuries, ultimately found the egalitarian Shia creed more palatable than the oppressive, Arab-supremacist tribal rule of Muawiyah.

Ali was noted for upholding the rights of non-Arab Muslims, whereas the Umayyads are remembered in Persian history for squashing them. The Umayyads suppressed Persian culture and language, and a number of Iran’s greatest contributors to Persian literature – both Shias like Ferdowsi and Sunnis like Sa’di – took the side of Ali, not Muawiyah.

According to Shi’a view, Muawiyah opposed Ali, out of sheer greed for power and wealth. His reign opened the door to unparalleled disaster, marked by the persecution of Ali, slaughtering of his followers, and unlawful imprisonment of his supporters, which only worsened when Yazid come into power and the Battle of Karbala ensued. Muawiyah is alleged to have killed many of Muhammad’s companions (Sahaba), either in battle or by poison, due to his lust for power.

Muawiyah killed several historical figures, including the Sahaba Amr bin al-Hamiq, Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr Malik al-Ashtar, Hujr ibn Adi (to which the families of Abu Bakr and Umar condemned Muawiyah for, and the Sahaba deemed his killer to be cursed) and Abd al-Rahman bin Hasaan (buried alive for his support of Ali).

Muawiyah was also responsible for instigating the Battle of Siffin, the bloodiest battle in Islam’s history, in which over 70,000 people (among them many of the last surviving companions of the Prophet Muhammad) were killed. Notable among the Companions who were killed by Muawiyah’s forces was Ammar bin Yasir, a frail old man of 95 at the time of his murder.

Shi’i Muslims see his being killed at the hands of Muawiyah’s army as significant because of a well-known hadith,present in both the Shia and Sunni books of hadith, narrated by Abu Hurayrah and others, in which the Prophet is recorded to have said: “Rejoice Ammar! The transgressing party shall kill you.”. Sahih MuslimBook 41-No.6968/69/70 & Sahih Bukhari-Kitab Al Jihad

When the tide of the battle was turning in Ali’s favor, Muawiyah stalled Ali’s troops by raising the Qur’an on the tip of a bloody spear as a sort of “holy book shield” against attack by Muslims. This sort of act is widely regarded as blasphemy and desecration of God’s word, and Shia scholars condemn Muawiyah for it, arguing such a practice would today be condemned by Sunni Muslims just as much as Shia Muslims.

The killing of the two children of Ubaydullah ibn Abbas can also be found in Sunni and Shi’a texts. Then he [i.e. Muawiyah] was informed that Ubaidullah had two infant sons. So he set out to reach them, and when he found them – they had two (tender) forelocks like pearls – [and] he ordered to kill them.

From the Shia point of view and that of many Sunnis – as has been recorded in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, in a hadith narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar – Imam Hasan ibn Ali did not sign the treaty with Muawiyah because he liked him; rather, he did so to prevent even worse bloodshed than had already happened at Siffin.

Hasan’s intention was to preserve the Muslim Ummah and eventually restore the Caliphate to its rightful heirs, the Prophet’s family (as per the terms of the treaty). He died before he was able to do this, allegedly poisoned by his wife on Muawiyah’s orders.