Muawiyah I

From Academic Kids

Mu'awiyah I (602 - May 6, 680), early Muslim leader and founder of the great Umayyad Dynasty of caliphs. He is also considered one of the four brilliant arabs along with his generals Amr ibn al-As, Al-Moughierah ibn Shou'bah and Ziyad ibn Abeeh. He fought against the fourth caliph, 'Ali (Muhammad's son-in-law), seized Egypt, and assumed the caliphate after 'Ali's assassination in 661. He restored unity to the Muslim empire and made Damascus its capital. He reigned from 661 to 680. His given name at was Mu'awiyah ibn Abu Sufyan.

It is ironic that a man who was to become the political-religious head of Islam was born (c. 602) into a clan (Banu Abd Shams) that rejected the Prophet Muhammad in his home city, Mecca, and continued to oppose him on the battlefield after he had emigrated to Medina. Mu'awiyah's father was Abu Sufiyan ibn Harb who was a bitter opponent of Muhammad.

Mu'awiyah did not become a Muslim until Muhammad had conquered Mecca and had reconciled his former enemies by gifts. Possibly as a part of Muhammad's policy of conciliation, Mu'awiyah was made a scribe in his service. But Mu'awiyah's contributions to Islamic history are wholly associated with his career in Syria, which began shortly after the death of the Prophet, when he, along with his brother Yazid, served in the tribal armies sent from Arabia against the Byzantine forces in Syria.

Upon the death of Yazid in 640, Mu'awiyah was appointed governor of Damascus by the caliph 'Umar and gradually gained mastery over other areas of Syria, instilling remarkable personal loyalty among the prelates, troops and common people of the region. By 647 Mu'awiyah had built a Syrian tribal 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 in Anatolia (655). At the same time, Mu'awiyah periodically dispatched land expeditions into Anatolia. All these campaigns, however, came to a halt with the accession of Ali ibn Abi Talib to the caliphate, when a new and decisive phase of Mu'awiyah's career began.

As a kinsman of the slain caliph 'Uthman, Mu'awiyah bore the duty of revenge. Because 'Ali failed to apprehend and punish 'Uthman's murderers, Mu'awiyah regarded him as an accomplice to the murder and refused to acknowledge his caliphate. Thereupon 'Ali marched to the Euphrates border of Syria and engaged Mu'awiyah's troops at the Battle of Siffin (657). Mu'awiyah's guile turned near defeat into a truce. Resorting to a trick that played upon the religious sensibilities of 'Ali's forces, he ordered his troops to hoist copies of the Holy Koran on their lances, as a request for religious arbitration. He thus persuaded the enemy to enter into negotiations that ultimately cast doubt on the legitimacy of 'Ali's caliphate and alienated a sizable number of his supporters. When these former supporters--the Kharijites--rose in rebellion against 'Ali, Mu'awiyah took advantage of 'Ali's difficulties in Iraq to send a force to seize control of Egypt. Thus, when 'Ali was assassinated in 661, Mu'awiyah held both Syria and Egypt and, as commander of the largest force in the Muslim Empire, had the strongest claim to the caliphate. 'Ali's son Hasan was persuaded to remove himself from public life in exchange for a subsidy, which Mu'awiyah provided.

After his accession to the position of Caliph, Mu'awiya governed the geogaphically and politically disparate Caliphate, which spread from Egypt in the West to Iran in the East, by strengthening the power of his allies in the newly conquered Arab territories. Prominent positions within 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. Mu'awiyah instituted several Byzantine-style bureaucracies, called diwans, to aid him in the governance and the centralization of the Caliphate and the empire. Early Arabic sources credit two diwans in particular to Mu'awiyah: the diwan al-khatam, or chancellery, and the bareed, or postal service, both of which greatly improved communications within the empire. However, such a substantial dependance on the personal allegiance that Mu'awiyah could personally generate inevitably resulted in some instability after his death, such as the second Fitna in 680.

Mu'awiyah greatly beautified Damascus and developed a court to rival that of the Byzantines. He expanded the frontiers of the empire, reaching the very gates of Constantinople at one point, though failing to hold any territory in Asia Minor. He is credited with saving the fledgling Muslim nation from post civil war anarchy. One of Mu'awiyah's most controversial and enduring legacies was his decision to designate his son as his successor, thereby converting the Caliphate from an elective office to a dynasty. He attempted to preserve the form of the election however, by causing his nobles and the chiefs of the empire to elect and swear allegiance to his son in his own lifetime, a tradition that endured for several succeeding dynasties.

Mu'awiyah died May 6, 680. He was succeeded by his son Yazid I.

Preceded by:
Succeeded by:
Yazid I

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External links

de:Muawiya I. ja:ムアーウィヤ


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