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Leatham, Jeremy, et. al"Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan" Faithology, LLC. Last modified March 11, 2013. http://faithology.com/biographies/muawiyah-i

Leatham, Jeremy, et. alMuawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan. Faithology, LLC, 2012. http://faithology.com/biographies/muawiyah-i (Accessed Oct 5, 2015).

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  • Last Updated: March 11, 2013
  • Originally Published: July 15, 2012
  • Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan


Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan1Mu'āwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān (c. 602 – 680 CE) was Islam's fifth caliph and the founder of the Umayyad dynasty.

Muawiyah came from the Umayyad tribe, which opposed Muhammad in Mecca and continued to fight him after the Hijrah. When Muhammad finally conquered Mecca in 630 CE, Muawiyah converted to Islam and served in the Muslim army during a period of military expansion. The success of his military campaigns as well as his position as governor of Damascus put him in a position to challenge 'Ali and eventually claim the caliphate. Muawiyah moved the capital from Medina to Damascus where he guided the Islamic empire until his death.


Muawiyah I was the founder of the Umayyad dynasty; this map shows the dynasty circa 750 CE


Like many of Islam's early leaders, Muawiyah was born in Mecca and knew of Muhammad firsthand. Of all the distinct clans within the Quraysh tribe, however, Muawiyah's clan, the Umayyads, was among the most hostile toward Islam, and his father was the leader of the opposition to Muhammad in Mecca. Consequently, Muawiyah held strong prejudices against Muslims as a child. In accordance with the customs of the time and his position as the son of a clan leader, Muawiyah received military-related training that largely defined his career.

Adult Life

Muawiyah's opposition to Muhammad continued into his early adult life. He converted to Islam only when it was apparent that the Muslims would conquer Mecca and become the most powerful force in Arabia. In an effort to conciliate former enemies, Muhammad offered gifts and important positions to Meccans after his conquest. Thus, Muawiyah became a scribe for Muhammad.

After the Prophet's death, Muawiyah moved into a military leadership role under Abu Bakr. Muawiyah and his brother were sent to Syria where they achieved many victories and helped secure the region for Islam. At the death of his brother, Muawiyah was named governor of Syria, naming Damascus as his capital.

Upon the assassination of 'Uthman in 656, Muawiyah, the murdered caliph's relative, demanded that the perpetrators be caught and punished. Angered by 'Ali's apparent reluctance to pursue those responsible, Muawiyah raised an army to challenge 'Ali's claim to the caliphate. The two armies clashed at the Battle of Siffin, and when 'Ali's forces seemed to be on the point of victory, Muawiyah instructed his troops to attach pages of the Holy Quran to their lances in an attempt to stop an oncoming attack by exploiting the religious sensibilities of their attackers. The strategy worked, and 'Ali agreed to arbitration rather than continue the fighting. The conflict ended as a truce, but it severely undercut 'Ali's authority, and many of his supporters abandoned him. When 'Ali himself was assassinated in 660, Muawiyah was perfectly positioned to claim the leadership of Islam.

Later Years

Despite the controversy that surrounds Muawiyah and his ascendancy to the caliphate, most scholars recognize him as a competent leader who stabilized an empire during its greatest crisis to that time. Without an internal threat to his leadership, Muawiyah was free to dedicate his time to strengthening the Muslim empire. He focused on improving the agricultural production of the empire as well as expanding its borders through military conquests.

Part of Muawiyah's success rested on the agreement that he made with 'Ali's sons, whom some felt had the right claim to the caliphate. In order to prevent further war after the death of his father, 'Ali's oldest son Hasan reached a truce with Muawiyah in which he agreed not to claim the caliphate in exchange for payments and promises from Muawiyah that he would follow Islamic practice and return the caliphate to 'Ali's family after his death. Muawiyah lived for another twenty years, however. Having outlived Hasan, he decided to appoint his son Yazid as caliph rather than Hasan's younger brother Husayn. That decision led to another Muslim civil war, the establishment of the Ummayad dynasty, and, ultimately, the permanent division between Sunnism and Shi'ism.


Muawiyah's significance in Islamic history derives from his ability to bring Islam back from the verge of collapse after the First Civil War (656-661 CE) by unifying the empire with military prowess and tactful diplomacy. He also succeeded in establishing a legitimate family dynasty by ensuring that his son would inherit his position as caliph.

Despite criticism from both Sunnis and Shi'a that Muawiyah secularized the caliphate and abandoned many of the guiding principles of Islam that Muhammad himself had established, most historians recognize the major impact he had on the course of Islam. For one thing, it was largely due to his opposition to 'Ali and the appointment of his son Yazid to the caliphate (which led to the Battle of Karbala) that Shi'a eventually formally split from mainstream Islam. Furthermore, despite the direction that Islam took under Muawiyah's leadership, it is unclear whether Islam could have survived as a major political entity, or even a religious one, without a strong leader after the First Civil War.