Fmr Sunni Grand Mufti’s views on Muawiyah I, one of the most contentious figures of Islamic history


In a video lecture published on YouTube titled “What is our position towards Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan? And do we pray that God be pleased with him”, former Grand Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Ali Gomaa presents his view of Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan (or Muawiyah I), one of the most contentious figures of Islamic history.

Muawiyah I was the founder of the first dynasty to rule the Islamic world, that is the Umayyad dynasty. Following Ali ibn Abi Taleb’s assumption to the Caliphate in 656, Muawiyah – who was the incumbent governor of Syria – soon declared war on Ali’s government which was based in Kufa, Iraq.

This declaration of war by Muawiya led to the Battle of Siffin in the year 657, the first major internal battle between Muslim parties in the history of Islam.

The various and often contradictory readings of Muawiya bin Abi Sufyan and his role in the developments of early Islamic history continue to inform the varying Islamic political, social, and cultural discourses today.

The entire translation of Gomaa’s lecture will be published as two parts. Below is part one. Part two is set to be published within seven days.

Update: Part two can now be found below as well, as of 9 Jan, 2022

Source: Dr Ali Gomaa (YouTube channel)

Date: June 5, 2018

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Sheikh Ali Gomaa, former Grand Mufti of Egypt:

What is our stance towards Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan? Is it permissible (according to our jurisprudential school) to wish that Allah be pleased with him and that we call him “Sayyidna” (i.e. our master)?

Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan is one of the sahabah (i.e. companions of the Prophet Muhammad), and Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan is one of the narrators (of hadith i.e. sayings said or actions performed by the Prophet). (Muawiyah) narrated hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – and all the narrators (of hadiths) are (considered by us as) trustworthy. We have 114,000 companions – we have the names of 9,500 companions, and they include women, and they include those who saw the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the remaining (companions) of the 114,000 are ones we don’t know about.

(However,) among those 9,000 (companions) are those who narrated (hadiths). Some (in fact) narrated (only) one hadith, and such (companions) are many. They lived their entire life narrating only one hadith (to other people). (The fact that a given companion) narrated (at least one hadith) is enough (for us to consider him an esteemed companion), period.

Therefore, our master Muawiyah is among those who narrated (hadiths), and he’s also among those who wrote (i.e. he was a scribe). Now, what did he write? Scholars have discussed this matter. Some said that he scribed the divine revelation (i.e. the Qur’an, that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad), and this is what a hadith in (Sahih) Muslim[i] indicates. Others say he had written letters (dictated to him by the Prophet), and not the revelation. Both are the same case, the fact that he wrote something on behalf of Rasoolullah (i.e. the Messenger of God) means that he sat with him and (the Prophet) dictated to him (what to write), and that he was confident (Muawiyah) would write down the very words he dictated. Therefore, he is trustworthy. So, (Muawiyah) was a scribe (of Prophet Muhammad) or was one of the scribes of the divine revelation (specifically). There are differences in the research, (yet) whether it was this or that, he remains one of the narrators and scribes. Therefore, we call him our master Muawiyah son of our master Abi Sufyan because the honourable companions (of the Prophet Muhammad) come first.

By the way, what brought up this (initial) question (i.e whether it’s okay to call Muawiyah our master or not)? It’s our Shia brothers. The Shias do not like it – they do not like that we (Sunnis) call (Muawiyah) ‘our master’, and that we ask God to be pleased with him, or do anything (positive with regards to Muawiyah) etc. (But) why is that? It’s because of the disagreements that occurred between our master Muawiyah and our master Ali (ibn Abi Taleb). Yet, who was truth with? It was with our Master Ali. Imam Ahmad[ii] (ibn Hanbal) included (in his Musnad[iii]): “Truth revolves around Ali wherever he goes”, period, end of discussion!. “Truth is with Ali”, no further discussion is required! Yet with every person that we disagree with, (is the fact that we have disagreed with them) a reason to no longer call that person ‘our master’, nor say ‘may God be pleased with them’?

We stand with our master Ali; our master Ali is something else entirely. Omar (ibn al-Khattab) once said: “(This is) an (extremely difficult) matter that only Aba al-Hassan (i.e. Ali ibn Abi Taleb) can resolve/decide upon”. When al-Nasa’i[iv] compiled (his work titled) “The Virtues of Ali”, he compiled some hadiths (narrated by the Prophet) about our master Ali (such as:) “You are to me of the status of Harun (Aaron) to Musa (Moses)”. (The Prophet) closed all the doors (leading directly from the houses of all Muslims to) the (Prophet’s) Mosque except for Ali’s door. No other door was left, even the door (leading from) Abu Bakr’s (house). Only the door of our master Ali (remained opened as it is) in honour of (Lady) Fatimah’s status – peace be upon her. Would God make Fatimah al-Batoul, daughter of al-Hubabah[v] – may God be pleased with them – be (i.e. married to) any regular person (other than Ali)?! He was the first man to embrace Islam – so, we stand with our master Ali.

Yet, does that mean we can act recklessly regarding the sahabah (the Prophet’s companions)? It’s a shameful act! That’s what led the majority of the people to follow Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jama’ah (i.e. the Sunni sect), because they saw that they are the people of reason, (people who adhere to) intellectual principles, and people of respect and decency, whereas the others (Shias) insult and despise the sahabah. How far could this go? No! (that’s not acceptable), the honourable companions – Imam al-Nasai composed (the book) “The Virtues of Ali”, and some nasibis – who are the nasibis? It is someone who is hostile and publicly displays his or her hostility towards Ahl al-Bayt – God forbid, we love our master (Prophet Muhammad) and his family (Ahl al-Bayt), we melt (in love with them) like sugar (melting) in (a cup) of tea, regardless of (the fact) that some like it and others don’t, (we won’t be affected,) let it be, and live your own life (without interfering with us and our beliefs), that’s it.

So, they told Imam al-Nasa’i Abi Abd ar-Rahman: “You wrote about Ali’s virtues, so write about Muawiyah’s virtues (too)” – (he said:) “the virtues of Muawiyah? What does this mean? I can’t remember, did the Prophet (even) say anything about (the virtues of) Muawiyah? If so, tell me, what it was”. The Prophet said many things about (the virtues) of Ali (such as:) “O God, befriend whoever befriends him, and be the enemy of whoever antagonizes him”. He also said: “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate”, and “You are to me of the status of Harun to Musa, except that there is no prophet after me”. He said: “Truth revolves around Ali wherever he goes”. He said so many (hadiths on the virtues of Ali). When Imam Ahmad (ibn Hanbal) compiled the book of “Manaqib al-Sahabah[vi]”, three quarters of the book talked (about the virtues of) our master Ali, and the other quarter on the other sahabah. Is our master Ali a simple (man)? He’s none other than our master Ali! Why do you think I was (personally) named Ali? It’s to be blessed by (being named after) our master Ali!

A still from the clip of Gomaa’s lecture

(Back to Imam al-Nasa’i, they asked him:) “What about our master Muawiyah”? He said: “By God, I don’t remember anything (i.e. any hadith (about him)) – oh hold on! I remember one hadith!” They said: “Come on tell us!” He said: “The Prophet said, ‘May Allah never fill his stomach (i.e. satisfy his hunger)!’”. That was a hard one (to accept), (so) they said: “Tell us any other hadith”, he said: “I can’t remember – there’s no other hadith (about Muawiyah)”.

(So,) what’s the story (of that one hadith)? The story is that the Prophet once – (Muawiyah) was (one of) his scribe(s), and he wanted to write something, a letter or something. So, he sent someone to summon our master Muawiyah and said: “Go and call Muawiyah to write these words”, (it was) a letter or something like that. So, the man went (to Muawiyah and came back to the Prophet) and told him: “He’s eating, and he’ll come when he’s done”, the Prophet said: “Alright”. A meal needs about 10 to 15 minutes, and our master (the Prophet) sent for you, so it’s (only decent) that you hurry up a bit! (However,) 15 to 20 minutes passed, and our master (Muawiyah) is still preoccupied (with his food)!…(The Prophet) sent for him again, and the man went again – pay attention (to this detail), when sending someone (to transmit your message/request,) it’d take about 10 minutes walking (until he gets there) and another 10 minutes on the way back. So (the Prophet) sent the man again, and the man came back and said: “He’s still eating”. The Prophet said: “He’s still eating?” – about 45 minutes have passed, or (maybe) an hour, and he’s still eating? It’s alright. (The Prophet) – peace be upon him – waited a bit and sent the man for the third time, and he came back and said: “He’s still eating”. (The Prophet) then said: “May Allah never fill his stomach”. What kind of a stomach he had that he (needed so much time to eat and never get full) – our master Muawiyah – may God be pleased with him – was fat, very fat because he ate so much, even narrations say that he’s the one who made the Kunafa, this Kunafa we eat in (the month) of Ramadan, he’s the one who (first) made it; he would put in it margarine and honey to get satiated because he was so fat, that’s his nature. His weight was about 200 to 230 KG, he was really heavy! He wasn’t (merely say) 130 kg or something like that; (no) he was really very fat.



So, we say, ‘our master’ and we say, ‘may God be pleased with him’, and we narrate narrations attributed to him because he is just, and we respect him as (we respect) all the sahabah, but we differentiate between the act and the doer. My brothers, the difference between us and the Khawarij[vii] is that they hate the doer, (whereas) we hate the act. If someone disobeyed (God) and sinned, I would hate the sin very much – I don’t like it, and I wish that I won’t fall into it, I (call for) its prevention, and if I fall into (sin), I must repent. However, I would wish for the sinner to go back (to the right path) and I’d love him like my son, (I’d consider that) my son did something wrong – will you hate (your son)? Or you’d treat him, comfort him, and make prayers for him (that God may forgive and guide him) and so on?

Those people do not understand the difference between the act and the doer. Therefore, whenever we show love for the doer because he’s a human, they say “look at the sheikh (i.e. clergyman), he permitted sins!” (Hold on) you fools! What makes (you think) it’s (anything like) permitting sins! Sins are filthy, and all sins are branches of disbelief because (a sin) holds heedlessness towards Allah. However, they have hardness of heart towards sinners, (although) they commit sins in secret and then they get exposed in front of people. This is all a misunderstanding of the Prophet’s (teachings); we should understand our master – the Prophet, “distinguish between the act and the doer, and denounce (the act)”.

Our master Muawiyah had (his own) point of view, and an action (that he did); he had gone against the legal ruler, which is a wrong (act), a disapproved (one), it means we (should) say we disagree with him, and if we were present back then, we would’ve stood by our master Ali’s side. Some people avoided (civil/internal) strife – Salamah ibn al-Akwaa’[viii]destroyed his sword; he was asked: “What are you doing?”, he said: “I’m going back to the desert”. He told him: “Haven’t you heard Rasoolullah – peace be upon him – saying that he forbade living the Bedouin (i.e. nomadic) life after becoming urbanized?”. It’s not appropriate that you go back to the Bedouin life after settling in urbanized life; there is no water, and no means of life, there is even no (religious) legitimacy (to go back to Bedouin life). Therefore, he told them not to go back to the desert again. (Then, Salamah) told him: “Haven’t you heard him saying ‘unless in case of strife?’”. So, Salamah knew the whole (hadith) – (the Prophet said) don’t go (back) to (live in) the desert unless in (case) of strife. What to do when (threatened by) strife? You must escape! Whoever had a (property of a) land should go back to it, and whoever had cows should herd them, and whoever had camels should herd them.

Always distinguish between the act and the doer and love the doer for his humanity, for being a Muslim, or for his good deeds, and detest the sin, deter it and denounce it, and raise your children on other than it, on obedience (to God). However, what shall we do with the sinner? Shall we throw him away to the whales? No, we shouldn’t throw him away to the whales! We must (rather) look after him, forgive him, and give him a second and third chance etc.

In this regard, Ibn Hajar al-Haithami[ix] composed a great book in defense of our master Muawiyah and which asserts what we have mentioned of (the beliefs) of ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaa’. There are some sheikhs from whom we received knowledge who don’t say ‘our master’ (about Muawiyah), they would (only) say ‘Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan’. You see what’s the situation? They’re upset with him. So, one of these sheikhs never approved to preach in the mosque of Amr ibn al-Aas[x]. We asked him: “Why, our honoured clergyman?” He said: “Because he’s among the people (who support) Muawiyah”. He’s upset, as if they (Muawiyah and Amr) were still alive – and he’s upset with him (Amr) because he didn’t stand by our master Ali’s side but stood with our master Muawiyah. Amr came to him in his dreams – Amr ibn al-Aas (came) – and told him: “Why don’t you preach in my mosque?” He replied: “Because you were among the people (who supported) Muawiyah and you didn’t take the side of Ali.” He (Amr ibn al-Aas) told him: “Don’t you know that the good deeds of the people of Egypt weigh in my balance (of deeds) on the day of Qiyamah (i.e. reserruction)?” He (Amr ibn al-Aas) brought Islam to Egypt, and Islam spread until the majority of (Egyptian) people became Muslims; the Muslims are praying and fasting etc. And whoever initiates a good deed will be rewarded for (initiating) it in addition to a reward equal to the rewards given to those who followed it until the day of Judgment. So, how many (deeds weigh in his balance of good deeds)? Let’s say that 90 million (Egyptians), 80 (million of them) are Muslims, there are 80 million praying persons (whose rewards for their good deeds weigh equally) in the balance of Amr ibn al-Aas, not to mention other numbers…The man got up from his sleep and started preaching at (the mosque of) Amr ibn al-Aas right away and kept preaching there – may God have mercy upon his soul – for a long time.

[i] Sahih Muslim is one of the six major hadith collections in Sunni Islam. It is highly acclaimed by Sunni Muslims and is considered the second most authentic hadith collection after Sahih al-Bukhari. It was collected by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj.

[ii] Ahmad ibn Hanbal was an Arab Muslim jurist, theologian, ascetic, hadith traditionist, and founder of the Hanbali school of Sunni jurisprudence — one of the four major orthodox legal schools of Sunni Islam.

[iii] Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal is a collection of hadith compiled by the Islamic scholar Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

[iv] Abu Abd-ar-Rahman Ahmad ibn Shuayb al-Nasai was a memorizer and critic of Hadith and one of the key figures in Muslim scholarship.

[v] A title of Lady Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, wife of the Prophet Muhammad, mother of Lady Fatimah.

[vi] A collection of Prophetic traditions on the excellence and virtues of the Holy Companions and the Prophet’s family.

[vii] The title comes from the Arabic word “khuruj”, meaning “revolt” or “insurrection”. The Khawarij broke into revolt against the authority of the Caliph Ali after he agreed to arbitration with his rival, Muawiyah I, to decide the succession to the Caliphate following the Battle of Siffin (657).

[viii] Salamah ibn al-Akwa’ is considered – at least by Sunnis – to have been one of the companions of prophet Muhammad.

[ix] Ibn Hajar al-Haithami was an Egyptian Arab muhaddith and theologian of Islam.

[x] Amr ibn al-As is widely acclaimed by Sunnis for his military and political acumen as a companion of the Prophet and a military commander who is most noted for leading the Muslim conquest of Egypt. He sided with Muawiyah I against the Caliphate of Ali.

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