Bio: Mu’awiya b. Abi Sufiyan | معاوية بن أبي سفيان

Bio: Mu’awiya b. Abi Sufiyan | معاوية بن أبي سفيان

Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufiyan

معاوية بن أبي سفيان
b. 15 H. in Makka – d.60 H. in Damascus
sahabi - radya Allah anhu

– Mu`awiya ibn Abi Sufyan was a companion of the Prophet ﷺ, entrusted with writing down revelation.
– He became caliph after Sayyiduna Al-Hasan b. `Ali b. Abi Talib.
– He was a first-class statesman and one of the most gifted and experienced politicians and rulers in history. The establishment of the Umayyad state by Mu’awiya b. Abi Sufyan reshaped the global scene and changed the balance of power at the time.
May Allah be pleased with him.



Speech by Aisha Bewley

Mu’awiya as a Model of Islamic Governance

by Aisha Bewley
From Aisha Bewley’s Homepage
This is a talk given in Norwich. Most of its contents and more will be found
in a book with the same title, now available from Dar al-Taqwa or Amazon (ISBN 1 870582 56X0).

I have been asked to speak on Mu’awiya and his governance. Mu’awiya was one of the Companions of the Prophet and one of his scribes who recorded the Revelation. He was appointed governor of greater Syria by ‘Umar after the death of his brother Yazid who had been appointed by Abu Bakr, and remained governor under ‘Uthman. As he was related to ‘Uthman, he was a leading force in demanding that his murderers be brought to justice. Thus he and ‘Ali came to be on opposite sides in the Fitna or Civil War. Eventually ‘Ali was murdered by a Kharijite and his son Hasan declared khalif. When Hasan realised he could not control the situation, he handed over power to Mu’awiya which led to peace and re-unification of the Umma in 40/661, the year known as the Year of the Jama’a, or Community. There was no further major civil unrest – except for the odd Kharijite agitation – during his reign. When he died, another chapter of the Fitna ensued in the form of the war between his son Yazid and first Husayn, ‘Ali’s son, and then Ibn az-Zubayr in the Hijaz.

So what was it about Mu’awiya which made his rule so successful to such an extent that the famous historian, adh-Dhahabi, points out that after al-Hasan had surrendered his claim to the khalifate, “Mu’awiya reigned without a rival, and without losing any of the conquests of Islam. Neither ‘Abdu’l-Malik, nor al-Mansur, nor Harun ar-Rashid earned this praise, unique in the annals of Islam”?

Before examining governance under Mu’awiya, it must first be pointed out that defining the nature of governance in an Islamic context is somewhat difficult, not least because it has been a long time since Islam formed the foundation of governance and Muslims have tended to base themselves on Western political theories and then to “Islamicise” these theories. Even the question of what an umma is causes problems. What precisely is the Muslim Umma? When it is translated as “nation”, it is inevitable that some of the connotations of the modern nation-state creep in, or if “community” is used, it becomes a purely social concept, something like a undefined social unit without any real political role. So any attempt to deal with Islamic governance is often fraught either with tinges of historical romanticism and utopic idealism, or else a pragmatism devoid of any real Islamic content – and so we find ourselves like Odysseus trying to pass between the twin perils of Scylla and Charybdis without being destroyed by either one. It is with the hope of avoiding these twin perils that we will examine how Mu’awiya, one of the most successful of Muslim rulers, governed.

So what is the umma? The concept of umma was an entirely new one which superseded previous tribal and family allegiances, although these tendencies kept coming back, particularly in the case in the Ridda, or Revolt, which followed the death of the Prophet. We read in the Qur’an: “You will not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day who are loving to anyone who opposes Allah and His Messenger, even if they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers or their clan.” (Qur’an 58:22) Acceptance of and allegiance to the umma, based on following Allah and His Prophet, became one’s primary allegiance. This means that the umma is not a nation-state based on ethnicity or language. It is not surprising, then, that it left the Arabs of the time somewhat bemused. Like the revelation with its uncompromising statement of tawhid, the idea of a community whose central core of political cohesion was based on that same principle was entirely alien to them. In fact, it was probably alien to just about everyone of the time. And indeed, it kept being forgotten, and still is forgotten, in favour of ‘asabiyya, or tribal solidarity.

The umma is further delineated in the Qur’an when Allah says, “You are the best umma brought forth to mankind – enjoining the correct and forbidding the incorrect and believing in Allah” (3:110) and “The believers, men and women, are protector-friends of each other, enjoining the correct and forbidding the incorrect.” (9:71)

The Covenant of Madina stipulated that the Muslims “Constitute one umma” and “All believers shall rise as one man against whomsoever rebels or seeks to commit injustice, aggression, wrong action or spread mutual enmity between the believers, even though he be one of their sons. … All believers are bonded together to the exclusion of other men.”

This, then, is the polity of the Muslims, and it is clearly a political as well as a spiritual collective, the one being a logical consequence of the other. Being a Muslim necessarily entails certain political consequences.

Having defined what the polity is, the question becomes: how it is to be governed? Historically, there has been two basic forms of governance – and indeed fiqh – which seem to reflect an eastern/ western split – and we find the same split in the forms of governance in eastern and western Christendom. In the east, we find the imperial form, reflecting the Persian Sassanid and Soghdian traditions, and, on the other side, initially in the Hijaz and Syria, a more open form of governance based on amirate and shura, which moved to Spain when the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads. I leave the imperial form to others. From 138/756, the Umma is split because the Umayyads in Spain regarded the Abbasids as usurpers. From 316/929 there were two rulers with the title Amir al-Mu’minin, and in 334/945, the Buwayhids, the Persian military dynasty, assumed full power, and the khalif was a mere figurehead.

This brings up the question of leadership: how is a leader chosen?

When it comes to choosing the Khalif, in the early community there were four ways that the Khalif was chosen:

1. By the bay’a of the people of loosing and binding (ahl al-hal wa’l-‘aqd) i.e. the ‘ulama’ (people of knowledge), leaders and army commanders, as happened with the first Khalif, Abu Bakr;
2. By the will and appointment of the preceding khalif as happened with the second Khalif, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab;

3. By a decision of the consultation (shura) of a certain group – as with ‘Uthman and ‘Ali, the third and fourth khalifs;

4. By the successful assumption of power of a man possessing the requisite qualities and qualifications to be khalif (sometimes in conjunction with 1 or 2).

When the khalif has been chosen, bay’a takes place. It is an act of validation by which the ruler accepts the duties of office and receives the power to discharge them, and the subjects undertake to obey him. It is usually translated as “allegiance” but this is somewhat unfortunate because rather than being one-sided, it is an agreement undertaken by two parties, like the conclusion of a sale from which the word is derived. As in any transaction, each side has an expectation of the other. In essence, the khalif makes an undertaking or covenant (‘ahd) to act according to the Shari’a.

Hence the ruler has certain duties. He must respect and enforce the Shari’a and thus he must protect the interests of the umma, defend or expand the frontiers, carry out jihad, administer public property, dispense justice and maintain internal security.

The behaviour of the ruler vis-a-vis his subject is a trust and a matter of grave concern for him in this world and the Next. The ruler is empowered to implement the Shari’a and all that entails, but he is nevertheless a custodian, and he expects to be corrected by the people of knowledge if he errs. When Abu Bakr was given the bay’a as Khalif, he stood up and addressed people, saying:

O people! I have been put in charge over you, but I am not the best of you. If I act well, then help me, and if I act badly, then put me right. Truthfulness is a trust and lying is treachery. The weak among you is strong in my sight until I restore his right to him, Allah willing. The strong among you is weak in my sight until I take the right from him, Allah willing. People do not abandon jihad in the way of Allah but that Allah afflicts them with humiliation. Shamelessness does not spread in a people but that Allah envelops them in affliction. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. If I disobey Allah and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience.
(Sira Ibn Hisham)
This clearly indicates the existence of a certain reciprocity in the relation between ruler and ruled. Abu Bakr’s successor, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab was also concerned about overstepping his authority.

Salman said that ‘Umar asked him, “Am I a king or a khalif?” Salman answered, “If you have taxed the lands of the Muslims one dirham, or more or less, and applied it to unlawful purposes, then you are a king, not a khalif.” And ‘Umar wept. (At-Tabari, Tarikh, p. 2754)
This view of leadership was also held by Mu’awiya. He came to Madina and spoke to the people, saying, “I desired the way followed by Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, but I was unable to follow it, and so I have followed a course with you which contains fortune and benefits for you despite some bias, so be pleased with what comes to you from me even if it is little. When good is continuous, even if it is little, it enriches. Discontent makes life grim.”

He also said in a khutba which he delivered to the people, “O people! By Allah, it is easier to move the firm mountains than to follow Abu Bakr and ‘Umar in their behaviour. But I have followed their way of conduct falling short of those before me, but none after me will equal me in it.”

The Greek historian Theophanus does not call Mu’awiya a king or an emperor, but rather a primus inter pares, or in Greek, a protosymboulos, “a first among equals”. Theophanus also referred to ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab as “primus inter pares”, so there cannot have appeared to be much difference between the rule of ‘Umar and that of Mu’awiya to an outside non-Muslim observer. We must attribute the later fixation on Mu’awiya as a king with the sense of an absolute monarch or despot to the backdating of things that happened later.


The role of Mu’awiya is interesting in modern terms because the rule of Mu’awiya and his immediate successors involves bringing disparate elements into a single unity – as there were really three power bases for a time: Syria and the Umayyads, Iraq where ‘Ali based himself, and the Hijaz as represented by Ibn az-Zubayr. How did Mu’awiya manage to bring about a unity and prevent the fragmentation of the Umma into three states? Eventually the single unit broke up again under the Abbasids, and never again were the Muslims a single entity. During Mu’awiya’s rule, he had no rivals, a situation which was never to prevail again. Even the Ottomans, the most successful in later times, did not encompass the entire community of Muslims.

The fitna itself was partially a reaction to the centralisation of power. As the provinces manifested a tendency towards autonomy, ‘Uthman tried to counter this by appointing people who were loyal to him – who happened to be mostly from his family. Perhaps if ‘Uthman had been of a less mild disposition, he might have succeeded. Of course, this raises the question: is it inevitable that such a large political unit will break up into smaller autonomous or semi-autonomous unit? Are ‘nations’ inevitable? Can this only be countered by an imperial form – which is not the original form of governance? What happens when the centre will not hold?

Looking at the course followed by Mu’awiya to re-establish the centre, once peace was established, Mu’awiya reconciled many of the Muslims who had been fighting each other by his generosity and fairness, not to mention the intrinsic power of his position, and resumed the conquests of Islam which had been interrupted by the fighting. Even the most stubborn of opponents would often melt under his generosity and diplomacy. He also managed through fine diplomacy to balance out the tribal rivalries which later destroyed Umayyad rule. The importance of jihad cannot be understated because without the external struggle against the unbelievers, almost without fail the struggle for power becomes internal.

We have an example of Mu’awiya’s astuteness when he visited ‘A’isha, the daughter of the murdered ‘Uthman, who was lamenting and crying for her father. He said, “Cousin, our subjects have sworn to obey us. In return, we promised to pardon them. If our act of clemency is tarnished by the memory of the past, their submission is also not free of regret. Each, with his hand on his sword, searched the eyes of his comrades. If we were to now break our commitments, we would push them into being disloyal to us. That would open a spate of new difficulties whose end result cannot be foreseen. “

When his friends expressed surprise at the vastness of his gifts to his opponents, he said, “a war costs infinitely more.” He said that he preferred to buy men than to cut off their heads, and he took the example of the Prophet, and the Book of Allah in this. This amounts to the Qur’anic category of ta’lif al-qulub, reconciling hearts (see Qur’an 9:60). This is gaining hearts rather than closing mouths, and it was a technique which was quite effective with the unruly Bedouins. Mu’awiya asked ‘Amr b. al-‘As, “How great is your cunning?” He replied, “I have never entered into anything but that I got out of it.” Mu’awiya said, “And I have never entered into anything that I wanted to get out of!”

Mu’awiya was famous for both for his self-possession or hilm and for his political finesse, his daha’. To have daha’ means to be a good orator, to have firm resolution in matters, a fertile imagination, an ability to foresee future turns of events, and an ability to manoeuvre people. Mu’awiya had the ability to single out enemies and turn them into allies. Ibn az-Zubayr said of him, “Truly the son of Hind deployed a dexterity and mental resourcefulness as one will never see after him. When we tried to impose something on him, an irritated lion with claws unsheathed would not show more audacity than him. He knew when to give into us, to even allow himself to be tricked when we tried to do that to him. He was the most artful of men, more crafty than a thief. I wished that we would never lose him, just as a rock remains on this summit,” pointing to the mountain of Abu Qubays outside Makka.

An example of this is found in al-Baladhuri which involves his wife, Fakhita bint Quraza:

She said to him, “Amir al-Mu’minin, why do you flatter people when you know that they are treated fairly by you? If you were to take the upper hand, they would be the ones abased and you would have force over them.” He said, “Bother you! There still is some force in the Arabs. If it were not for that, I would turn them upside down.” She said, “By Allah, there is only you and you have power over them!” He said, “Would you like me to show you some of that on their part?” She said, “Yes.”
So he put her in a room and lowered a curtain over it and then commanded his doorman to admit one of the nobles at the door.
He admitted a man from Qays called al-Harith. Mu’awiya said, “Little Harith! Is it you who attacks the khalifate and disparages its people? By Allah, I would like to make an example of you!” He replied, “Mu’awiya, have you summoned me for this? By Allah, my arm is strong and my spear is straight! My sword is sharp and my answer ready. If you do not take what I give with thanks, then you will be wrested from what we dislike with humiliation.” He said, “Remove him from me.” He was removed.

Fakhita said, “How bold this one is and how strong his heart!” Mu’awiya said, “That is only due to his pride in how his people obey him.”

Then he ordered the doorman who admitted a man of Rabi’a called Jariya. Mu’awiya said to him, “Little Jariya, it has reached me that you cause disaffection in the army and show little gratitude.” He said, “And what should we be grateful for? You only give to avert and you are only forbearing out of flattery. Strive your hardest! Rabi’a is behind me, a strong support! Their shields have not grown rusty since they polished them, and their swords have not become blunt since they sharpened them!” He said, “Remove him.”

Then he commanded his doorman who brought in a man from Yemen called ‘Abdullah. He said to him, “Little ‘Abd! You have behaved badly to people and spoken freely. I have heard such evil things about you that I want to exile you! You will be a lesson for the people of Syria!” He said, “Mu’awiya! Did you summon me for this and then use the diminutive of my name without using my kunya? I call you Mu’awiya, the name of a female dog who barks at dogs! Restrain yourself! That would be better for you!” He said to his doorman, “Remove him.”

Fakhita said, “Flatter people with your effort and some of your gentleness and forbearance. Allah will disgrace the one who censures you!”

As regards his hilm, or his forbearance, the quality of resorting to force only when absolutely necessary, Mu’awiya is known for his famous saying, “I do not apply my sword where my lash suffices, nor my lash where my tongue is enough. And even if there be one hair binding me to my fellow men, I do not let it break. When they pull, I loosen, and if they loosen, I pull.”

Mu’awiya was welcoming to his subjects at every hour of the day, including mealtimes. He created the first postal system and put it at the disposition of his subjects to use. He was known for his impartiality and justice, even where his family was concerned. He did not make ‘Uthman’s mistake of putting his relatives into the limelight to the exclusion of others. He would often give judgement against the Umayyads in favour of the Hashimites, especially if it involved Hasan ibn ‘Ali whom he was always eager to honour. He once imposed 100 lashes to ‘Abdu’r-Rahman ibn al-Hakam, the brother of the governor, Marwan, and confiscated his property. He would have an incorrect punishment publicly rescinded on the minbar, no matter who had issued it.

One thing that is clear in Mu’awiya is his reliance on shura and openness to his subjects with some modifications because of the situation in Syria. Az-Zuhri said, “Mu’awiya acted for two years (in Syria) as ‘Umar had acted without altering it.” Mu’awiya himself said that he had done his best to follow the behaviour of Abu Bakr and ‘Uthman. But when he realised that the environment and circumstances in Syria were different from those in Madina, and that the prevailing culture and people were different, he modified his style of governance accordingly. Mu’awiya himself used this excuse to ‘Umar when he came to Syria in 18 AH and Mu’awiya met him with a great retinue. ‘Umar disliked that, but Mu’awiya excused himself, saying, “We are in a land where there are many enemy spies. We must display the might of power in which the might of Islam and its people lie. We will frighten them by that.” ‘Umar was satisfied with that.

This use of pomp does not mean that Mu’awiya indulged himself in luxury, taking advantage of the excuse that he was impressing the Byzantines with his wealth. Mu’awiya could be seen speaking to the people on the minbar of Damascus wearing a patched garment. Yunus ibn Maysar al-Himyari said, “I saw Mu’awiya riding in the Damascus market with his servant behind him. He was wearing a shirt with a patched pocket, going along in the Damascus markets.”

Although Mu’awiya is said to be the first king in Islam as he himself is credited, probably posthumously, as saying, “I am the first of the kings and the last of the khalifs,” it was a rather strange sort of kingship. He continued to receive deputations from the provinces and the tribes and consulted these assemblies as much as possible, asking for their counsel, mixing with them, and accepting their criticisms. In fact, he knew just how to allow individualism scope without letting it run rampant. He did not worry about what they said about him, saying, “I do not trouble about words as long as they do not lead to deeds,” certainly well anticipating the principle of free speech, but with responsibility for any actions to which such words might lead.

He also let people speak their piece and allowed malcontents to vent their bad temper. When informed of a vicious satire against him and another Arab, he said, “I know a more effective method – both of us should raise our hands to heaven to pray against our adversary!” This freedom of expression also provided a healthy brake on centralisation, as people knew that they would always have a hearing. They could always speak out against something and be assured of a hearing in the presence of the Khalif.

Deliberations between the khalif and the bedouins took place in the Community Mosque, where the speakers were free and unconstrained towards the khalif. It is reported about him: “If he wanted to do something, he ‘had a look at the people,'” i.e. he consulted them. When he wanted to undertake a major decision, such as delegating Yazid as the next khalif, he summoned such a shura and the debate was unrestrained and very lively indeed.

On one occasion, Mu’awiya ascended the minbar and praised Allah. When he wanted to speak, a lad of the Ansar interrupted him and said, “Mu’awiya! What makes you and the people of your house more entitled to this wealth than us! Allah gave it as spoils to the Muslims by our swords and our spears. We have no wrong action against you that we know of other than our slaying of your uncle Walid, your grandfather ‘Uqba, and your brother Hanzala.” Mu’awiya said, “By Allah, nephew, you did not kill them. Rather Allah killed them with angels upon angels at the hands of the sons of their father. That was not a fault nor a loss.” The Ansari said, “So where is the fault and loss then?” He said, “You spoke the truth. Do you need something?” He said, “Yes. I look after an old woman and sisters and things have been hard on us.” Mu’awiya said, “Take what you can from the treasury.” The boy took it and then Mu’awiya resumed his khutba.

Once in Madina, he visited a house he wanted to buy and the owner, whose wits were somewhat addled, got up and chased him with a stick. Mu’awiya was amused.

In another instance, Mu’awiya had sent 500 dinars to an Ansari who thought the amount paltry. He told his son to go and throw it in the khalif’s face. The young man came and told Mu’awiya what he had been told to do by his father. Mu’awiya put his hand over his face and said, “Come on, obey your father, but do not be too hard on your uncle!” The man threw the money to the ground and Mu’awiya doubled the amount.

Once, losing his composure, he described a bedouin as lying in a report he was giving. The nomad retorted, ‘By Allah, the liar is to be found in your shirt!” Surprised, Mu’awiya smiled and said, “Here is the repayment of precipitation!”

He said, “There is nothing I like better than anger I swallow by which I hope for the reward of Allah.”

He said, “Intelligence and forbearance are the best things granted to mankind. If someone is reminded, he should remember. If someone is given something, he should be thankful. If someone is tested, he should be steadfast. If someone is angry, he should restrain it. If someone has power over another, he should forgive. If someone does wrong, he should ask forgiveness. If someone makes a promise, he should fulfil it.”

Mu’awiya said to ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, “I free myself from there being a wrong action greater than my pardon, ignorance greater than my forbearance and a fault which I do not cover and evil greater than my charity (ihsan).”

He remarked about his fierce governor and half-brother, Ziyad, “Ziyad mastered Iraq with the sword and I mastered Iraq, Syria, the Hijaz and the Yemen with forbearance.”

Once some people came to Mu’awiya and said that his governor had cut off someone’s hand on simple suspicion without clear evidence, and Mu’awiya paid them the blood money for the hand and dismissed the governor in question, asking them whom they would like as governor instead.

Another important point was the answerability of the ruler to scholars. He appointed people as qadi who were known for their knowledge of the Shari’a. Mu’awiya himself was subject to judgement. We have the following story in the Ansab al-Ashraf of al-Baladhuri:

‘Abdu’r-Rahman b. Zayd ibn al-Khattab owned some land which was next to the land of Mu’awiya. Mu’awiya’s trustee in Madina, his client an-Nadir, took ‘Abdu’r-Rahman’s land and added it to Mu’awiya’s land and informed him of this. ‘Abdu’r-Rahman said, “I have evidence that Abu Bakr granted it to me on account of my father’s participation in the fighting at Yamama.” An-Nadir said, “This is the land-grant of the Amir al-Mu’minin.”
He took the dispute to Marwan b. al-Hakam and he said, “Make peace between yourselves.” He did not like to give a definitive judgement against Mu’awiya. So ‘Abdu’r-Rahman b. Zayd went to Syria. When he reached Mu’awiya’s door, the doorman met him at al-Khadra’ in Damascus. He said to him, “Ask permission for me to visit the Amir al-Mu’minin! He put him off, so he raised his voice, saying, “I must see him! Our ties of kinship must be maintained and our property kept safe which we need more than having it taken from our possession!” Mu’awiya heard him and said, “Let him in.”

He entered and greeted him and said, “Your trustee in Madina has gone too far and has taken my land grant received from the khalif of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, which was allowed me by ‘Umar. He went to my land and claimed that he had a letter from ‘Uthman that he had given it to you. How could ‘Uthman give to you a right which was mine?” Mu’awiya said, “You left your land without cultivating it until I worked it. Then I planted 5000 palm-shoots in it. I said, ‘It is the grant of Abu Bakr and it is related that ‘Umar heard that some people sequestered some land and then left it idle and some other people came and cultivated it. He said that it belonged to the one who cultivated it.'” He said, “By Allah, you have not spoken the truth, Mu’awiya! Give me justice!” He said, “Then I must have the qadi, who is Fadala b. ‘Ubayd al-Ansari az-Zuraqi.”

The Qadi would not come to the khalif and stayed in his house, saying “One comes to the arbiter.” So Mu’awiya and ‘Abdu’r-Rahman went to him and he gave them a cushion and said, “Sit down on it.”
‘Abdu’r-Rahman made his previous statement and Mu’awiya made his previous statement. Fadala thought that the statement of ‘Abdu’r-Rahman’s was right and gave judgement in his favour.

Mu’awiya said, “We accept what you have said. What is your opinion about what we have planted in it?” He said, “That was undertaken by you. If ‘Abdu’r-Rahman wishes, he can pay the price of your planting, and if he wishes, he can make you responsible for them in exchange for the price of the land.” ‘Abdu’r-Rahman said, “You have been fair!”

Then Fadala said, “Amir al-Mu’minin, is this being done to the like of the descendants of Zayd and ‘Umar?” Mu’awiya said to his gardener, “Anything he takes a liking to in our land, is his by the connection of kinship,” and he wrote to his trustee to that effect on his behalf and settled his debt and gave him the highest pension (sharaf al-‘ata’). He said, “You deserve it, nephew of al-Faruq and son of the martyr.” And he gave him some money.

When ‘Abdu’r-Rahman had gone, Fadala said to Mu’awiya, “By Allah, if you had acted otherwise, he would have gone to the people of the City of Hijra and to the rest of the people and complained about you. Then what is neither good nor attractive would have occurred.” Mu’awiya said, “May Allah repay you for helping me to the truth!” Ibn Zayd left and took his money.

There are various things to be seen in this story. First of all, when ‘Abdu’r-Rahman b. Zayd considered he had been wronged by the governor, Marwan, he felt free to go straight to the Khalif and take up the matter. Although Mu’awiya’s position was based on valid ijtihad, realising that it was a conflict between himself and someone else, Mu’awiya empowered the Qadi to judge over him. This means that the khalif was not above the judgement of the Shari’a. Indeed, the Qadi would not even go to the khalif. The khalif had to go to the qadi, which indicates that all were equal as far as the Shari’a was concerned, and Mu’awiya accepted this. He accepted it when the judgement went against him and even thanked the Qadi for ensuring that he did what was right. There is absolutely no sense of royal prerogative here and a complete admission that he was in the wrong and the willingness to be corrected and put right.

So in this early vision of leadership, the khalif has conditional rather than absolute authority as a despot would have. Once Mu’awiya said in a khutba, “‘Umar appointed me over Syria and then ‘Uthman did so after him. By Allah, I never swindled nor monopolised. Then Allah appointed me to command, and I did well sometimes and badly sometimes.” Then a man stood up and said, “O Mu’awiya! Rather you monopolised and were bad and neither good nor just!” He said to the man, “Sit down. Why are you speaking?” They went on to exchange words with each other until Mu’awiya said, “Sit down or I will make you sit down.” At which the man exclaimed, “I will not sit down! I will go as far from you as possible!” He made to leave and Mu’awiya said, “Bring him back.” They brought him back and Mu’awiya said, “I ask Allah’s forgiveness. I saw you when you came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and greeted him and he returned the greeting to you and you were guided to him and he accepted that from you. You became a good Muslim. We have spoken harshly to you. Tell us what you need and I will give to you and you will be satisfied.”

The Companion, al-Miswar b. Makhrama visited Mu’awiya and said, “Peace be upon, you, O king!” He said, “I know better what you said. Why do you attack the amirs?” He replied, “I do not leave anything without criticising it.” He said, ‘Miswar! We are not innocent of wrong actions but we hope for the mercy of Allah. I am following a Shari’a of certainty in which Allah accepts the good and overlooks the evil. If I were to be given a choice between Allah and what is other than Him, I would chose Him, and then He would take care of my needs.”

He once wrote to ‘A’isha requesting some succinct advice and she wrote back, “I heard the Messenger of Allah say, ‘If anyone seeks the pleasure of people at the expense of the wrath of Allah, Allah will entrust him to them until the one who praised him becomes his critic. If anyone seeks the pleasure of Allah at the expense of people, Allah will be enough for him against them.'” He took this to heart and later said on the minbar of Damascus, “No one abandons fearfulness of Allah but that the one who praised him becomes his critic.”

One of the instructions of Mu’awiya to a new governor was:

“Open your door to the people; thus you will have information from them. You and they are equal. When you decide on a matter, express it openly to the people, and no one will expect anything or make demands on you, and you will be able to carry it out. When you encounter your enemies, and they defeat you at the border of your territory, do not let them defeat you in its interior. If your companions need you to assist them personally, do so.”
He also said, “Fear Allah and do not prefer anything to that, for there is a reward in fearing Him.” He added, “Do not tempt anyone with that to which he has no right, and do not make anyone feel hopeless regarding his rights.” This sense of duty to the people under one’s authority was important.

Mu’awiya also said when he appointed someone, “The matters most proper to be hastened are the rights of Allah.”

If you look closely at Mu’awiya and examine his behaviour, you will see that what he actually did was to take on the Sunna of the Prophet and try to embody it as much as possible in a real and constructive way. If one looks at his statements and behaviour, his inspiration always came from the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings be upon him. He envisaged himself as following in the footsteps of his predecessors.

At this point, we should perhaps remark on what is perhaps the major criticism most people direct against Mu’awiya – the fact that he chose his son Yazid to succeed him, thereby instituting a dynasty. Mu’awiya had seen the effects of a civil war and was keen to avoid another one. There was more than one possible contender for leadership at that time. There was not only Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, but also ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, who had an even larger following in the Hijaz. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar could also have made a claim, but he was only interested in matters of the deen. There were also various Kharijite groups waiting for an opportunity to assert themselves.

Mu’awiya, a great pragmatist, realised that Husayn certainly had better character than his son and Ibn az-Zubayr a wider following, but he realised also that Yazid had the army of Syria behind him, which could enforce peace and prevent civil war. He urged Yazid to avoid bloodshed as much as possible. When criticised for having people give their allegiance to Yazid in advance, Mu’awiya pointed out that Abu Bakr had named ‘Umar as his successor before his death, and that the upheaval involved in an election could lead to another civil war, which would involve Muslim blood being shed and offer the enemies of the Muslims an opportunity to attack. It was not the desire for a dynasty which led Mu’awiya to have people offer allegiance to his son while he was still alive, but the desire to ensure peace and prevent civil war.


Burial Place

Mu’awiya b. Abdi Sufyan is buried in the southern section of the Bab Saghir Maqbara in Damascus.

In the below video from July 2022, one can see the names written along the roof of the maqam:


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