UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


661-680 - Moawiya

Mu'awiyya I 661-680
Yazid I 680-683
Mu'awiyya II 683-684
Marwan I 684-685
Abd al-Malik 685-705
al-Walid I 705-715
Sulayman 715-717
Umar  II 717-720
Yazid II 720-724
Hisham 724-743
al-Walid II 743-744
Yazid III 744
Ibrahim 744
Marwan II 744-750
Moawiya [r. 661-680], son of the well-known Meccan chief Abu Sofian, embraced Islam together with his father and his brother Yazid, when the Prophet conquered Mecca, and was, like them, treated with the greatest distinction. He was even chosen to be one of the secretaries of Mahomet. When Abu Bekr sent his troops for the conquest of Syria, Yazid, the eldest son of Abu Sofian, held one of the chief commands, with Moawiya as his lieutenant. In the year 630 Omar named him governor of Damascus and Palestine; Othman added to this province the north of Syria and Mesopotamia. To him was committed the conduct of the war against the Byzantine emperor, which he continued with energy, at first only on land, but later, when the caliph had at last given in to his urgent representations, at sea also. In the year AH 34 (AD 655) was fought off the coast of Lyria the great naval battle, which because of the great number of masts has been called "the mast fight," in which the Greek1 fleet, commanded by the emperor Constans II in person, was utterly defeated. Moawiya himself was not present, as he was conducting an attack (the result of which is not known) on Caesarea in Cappadocia. The Arabic historians are so entirely preoccupied with the internal events that they have no eye for the war at the frontier. The contention which Moawiya had with Ali checked his progress in the north.

Moawiya was a born ruler, and Syria was the best administered province of the whole empire. He was so loved and honored by his Syrians that, when he invited them to avenge the blood of Othman, they replied unanimously, "It is your part to command, ours to obey." Ali was a valiant man, but had no great talent as a ruler. His army numbered a great many enthusiastic partisans, but among them not a few wiseacres; there were also others of doubtful loyalty.

The battle at Siffin (657), near the Euphrates, which lasted two months and consisted principally in, sometimes bloody, skirmishes, with alternate success, ended by the well-known appeal to the decision of the Koran on the part of Moawiya. This appeal has been called by a European scholar "one of the unworthiest comedies of the whole world's history," accepting the report of very partial Arabic writers that it happened when the Syrians were on the point of losing the battle. He forgot that Ali himself, before the Battle of the Camel, appealed likewise to the decision of the Koran, and began the fight only when this had been rejected. There is in reality no room for suspecting Moawiya of not having been in earnest when making this appeal; he might well regret that internecine strife should drain the forces which were so much wanted for the spread of Islam. That the Book of God could give a solution, even of this arduous case, was doubtless the firm belief of both parties. But even if the appeal to the Koran had been a stratagem, as Ali himself thought, it would have been perfectly legitimate, according to the general views of that time, which had been also those of the Prophet. It is not unlikely that the chief leader of the Yemenites in Ali's army, Ash'ath b. Qais, knew beforehand that this appeal would be made. Certainty is not to be obtained in the whole matter.

On each side an umpire was appointed, Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, the candidate of Ash'ath, on that of Ali, Amr-ibn-el-Ass on that of Moawiya. The arbitrators met in the year 37 (AD 658) at Adhroh, in the south-east of Syria, where are the ruins of the Roman Castra described by Briinnow and Domaszewsky {Die Provincia Arabia, i. 433-463). Instead of this place, the historians generally put Dumat-al-Jandal, the biblical Duma, now called Jauf, but this-rests on feeble authority. The various accounts about what happened in this interview are without exception untrustworthy. It is very probable that the decision of the umpires was that the choice of Ali as caliph should be cancelled, and that the task of nominating a successor to Othman should be referred to the council of notable men (shura), as representing the whole community. Ali refusing to submit to this decision, Moawiya became the champion of the law, and thereby gained at once considerable support for the conquest of Egypt, to which above all he directed his efforts.

As soon as Amr returned from Adhroh, Moawiya sent him with an army of four or five thousand men against Egypt. About the same time the constitutional party rose against Ali's vicegerent Mahommcd, son of Abu Bekr, who had been the leader of the murderous attack on Othman. Mahommed was beaten, taken in his flight, and, according to some reports, sewn in the skin of an ass and burned.

Moawiya, realizing that Ali would take all possible means to crush him, took his measures accordingly. He concluded with the Greeks a treaty, by which he pledged himself to pay a large sum of money annually on condition that the emperor should give him hostages as a pledge for the maintenance of peace. Ali, however, had first to deal with the insurrection o the Kharijites, who condemned the arbitration which followed the battle of Siffin as a deed of infidelity, and demanded that Ali should break the compact. Freed from this difficulty, Ali prepared to direct his march against Moawiya, but his soldiers declined to move. One of his men, Khirrit b. Rashid, renounced him altogether, because he had not submitted to the decision of the umpires, and persuaded many others to refuse the payment of the poor-rate. Ali was obliged to subdue him, a task which he effected not without difficulty. Not a few of his former partisans went over to Moawiya, as already had happened before the days of Siffin. Lastly, there were in Kufa, and still more in Basra, many Othmaniya or legitimists, on whose co-operation he could not rely.

Moawiya from his side made incessant raids into Ali's dominion, and by his agents caused a very serious revolt in Basra. On the murder of Ali in 661, his son Hasan was chosen caliph, but he recoiled before the prospect of a war with Moawiya, having neither the ambition nor the energy of Ali. Moawiya stood then with a large army in Maskin, a rich district lying to the north of the later West Bagdad, watered by the Dojail, or Little Tigris, a channel from the Euphrates to the Tigris.

The constructive genius of the organization in the state was Moawiya, the first Omayyad caliph. Under him the old simplicity vanished. A splendid and ceremonious court was maintained at Damascus. A chamberlain kept the door; a bodyguard surrounded the caliph, and even in the mosque the caliph, warned by the murder of Othman and of AH, prayed in a railcd-off enclosure. The beginning of the seclusion of the caliph had come, and he no longer walked familiarly among his fellow Moslems. This seclusion increased still further when the administration of the state passed by delegation into other hands, and the caliph himself became a sacrosanct figure-head, as in the case of the later Abbasids; when theories of semi-divine nature and of theocratic rule appeared, as in the case of the Fatimites; and finally when all the elaborate court ritual of Byzantium was inherited by the Ottoman sultans.

But Moawiya I. was still a very direct and personal ruler. He developed a post-system for the carrying of government despatches by relays, and thus received secret information from and kept control of the most distant provinces. He established a sealingbureau by which state papers were secured against change. He dealt arbitrarily with the revenues of the state and the pensions of the Moslems. Governors of provinces were given a much freer hand, and were required to turn over to the central treasury their surplus revenue only. As they were either conquerors or direct successors of conquerors they had an essentially military government, and were really semi-independent rulers, unhampered except by direct action of the caliph, acting on information sent by the postmaster, who was his local spy. Being thus the heads of armies of occupation, they were not necessarily charged with the control of religious ritual and of justice. These, like every other function, inhered in the office of the caliph and he generally appointed in each province independent cadis over the courts and imams to be in charge of religious services. Yet the governor was sometimes permitted to hold these two other offices.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:59:34 ZULU