Opinion, September 2003, www.aljazeerah.info
Islamic History -16: The Choice of the Early Caliphs
Adil Salahi, Arab News, 9/15/03
The charge often repeated against Uthman, even to our present day, is that he appointed his relatives as governors of different provinces. The rebels mentioned the names of Muawiyah, Abdullah ibn Amir and Marwan as well as Al-Waleed ibn Uqbah, accusing the last of these people of being a transgressor, unfit for such a post. Again when this charge is properly examined, it becomes clear that it does not stand. Because of the nature of this charge, we need to look into the history of the people mentioned. We will begin today with the case of Mu’awiyah. Ibn Al-Arabi has the following to say about his appointment:
As for Mu’awiyah, it was Umar who appointed him as governor of Syria, grouping all Syrian areas under his governorship. Then Uthman confirmed him in his post. In fact, it was Abu Bakr who initiated his appointment, because Abu Bakr appointed his brother Yazeed, and Yazeed appointed him as his deputy. Umar confirmed him in this post because he was keen not to change what Abu Bakr did. Since Yazeed was the governor appointed by Abu Bakr, Umar approved what Yazeed did. Then Uthman endorsed what Umar did. This is a chain of the strongest type. Nothing like it will ever be repeated.
Al-Khateeb adds here a very long footnote, which we will reproduce in summary: “The Muslim state reached its pinnacle during the reigns of Abu Bakr and Umar. It achieved rare human success, with a model community that enjoyed unique happiness. Both Abu Bakr and Umar were endowed with a rare insight that enabled them to recognize men who had qualities of leadership. They were thus able to be highly selective when appointing governors and officers in different provinces of the vast Muslim state. They knew that it was their responsibility to make the best choice they could, and that they would be accountable to God for their choice.
Both Yazeed ibn Abi Sufyan and his brother Mu’awiyah were among the men Abu Bakr chose to help him in shouldering responsibilities in war and peacetime. He certainly made an excellent choice. When Abu Bakr earlier assigned the command of an army to Yazeed ibn Abi Sufyan, he walked with him to bid him farewell. Mu’awiyah is mentioned in history books after his brother only because he was younger. This does not make any negative reflection on his leadership qualities. Prior to serving in Abu Bakr and Umar’s governments, Mu’awiyah was assigned certain tasks by the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself. No one can deny that the Prophet used him as a scribe. Writers who were hostile to the Umayyads mention that the Prophet did not use Mu’awiyah to write the Qur’an, but to write ordinary letters. However, they do not produce any evidence to support their claim. Besides, had the Prophet made a distinction between those who used to do his writing, this would have been widely known.
Al-Khateeb makes clear that Mu’awiyah was one of the great figures in Islamic government. He likens him to a lantern that illuminates the way for people, and would have been recognized as an important source of light. However, his light shined next to four suns whose light covered the whole earth. Needless to say, those four lights were the four rightly-guided caliphs who ruled immediately before him, namely Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali. He refers to a report related by Ibn Katheer which quotes Saad ibn Abi Waqqas, one the top ten of the Prophet’s companions, as saying: “I have never seen after Uthman anyone whose judgment is closer to justice than the one beyond this door.” He was referring to Mu’awiyah.
Ibn Abbas is also quoted as saying: “I have never seen anyone more suitable to rule than Mu’awiyah.” One wonders whether anyone could be suitable to rule unless he combines justice with wisdom in his character, demonstrates a clear ability to defend his kingdom, seeks God’s help in propagating the message of Islam and is faithful to his trust. If someone is worthy to rule, should Uthman be blamed for appointing him as governor? How could Uthman be blamed when it was Umar who had appointed him? Indeed, Abu Bakr employed him and before that, the Prophet employed him.
One event tells us what sort of man Mu’awiyah was. Umayr ibn Saad was one of the Prophet’s companions, from the Aws tribe of the Ansar. He was one of the most pious and God-fearing people. Indeed, he was described as one without peers. It is said that Umar had described him as such in recognition of his qualities. Umar had appointed him governor of Hums in Syria, but then he replaced him with Mu’awiyah. People wondered at his decision. In comment, someone said: “Do not say anything about Mu’awiyah unless you say something good. I heard the Prophet saying: ‘My Lord, guide people to the truth through him.’”
Reports differ on who said this, with the statement attributed to either Umar or Umayr. Whichever of them said it, it is a great testimony for Mu’awiyah. If it was Umar who said it, then that it is a testimonial of the finest sort, considering Umar’s close relation with the Prophet. If it was Umayr who said it, it is an equally fine testimony from the man who was relieved of his post to make way for Mu’awiyah.
Ibn Taimiyah writes: “Mu’awiyah’s policy with his people was one of the finest among all rulers. He was very popular among his people.” In an authentic Hadith related by both Al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet is quoted as saying: “The best of your rulers are those whom you love and who love you, and you pray for them and they pray for you; and the worst of your rulers are those whom you hate and they hate you, and you curse them and they curse you.”
We will have reason to discuss Mu’awiyah’s character further in a future article when we speak about his reign.
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