Abu Sufyan

From New World Encyclopedia

Sakhr ibn Harb, (Arabic: صخر بن حرب ) more commonly known as Abu Sufyan, was a leading man of the Quraish of Mecca and arch-enemy of Muhammad. He converted to Islam immediately before Mecca surrendered to the advancing army of the Prophet. His kinsman Uthman became the third caliph and his son, Muawiyah I established the first dynastic caliphate, the Ummayads, who ruled from 661 until the Abbasid coup of 750 C.E. However, a branch of the Umayyads established a sultanate in Spain from 756, where from 929 until 1031 they claimed the title caliph.

Abu Sufyan is a contentious figure, especially between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. The lateness of his conversion has always attracted the charge that he only did so when he had little choice, while Shi'a blame his son and grandson for Ali ibn Abi Talib losing the caliphate and for the murder of Husayn at the Battle of Karbala. The majority of Sunni, too, supported the Abbasid coup on the basis that the Ummayads were insufficiently pious and also that the Abbasid's enjoyed a familial relationship with the Prophet while the Ummayads were descended from his enemy. Ali himself pointed out Muawiyah's dubious ancestry when he usurped the caliphate.[1] It has been suggested that Abu Sufyan wanted power, either for himself or for his sons, within the Muslim community. All available sources for this period of history are Islamic, so records reflect hostility towards him, at least until his conversion. Muhammad, however, appointed him governor of Najran and does not appear to have doubted the sincerity of his conversion.



Abu Sufyan was born 560 C.E. as a son of Harb ibn Umayya. Abu Sufiyan's grandfather was Umayya, after whom the Umayyad dynasty was named, and his great-grandfather was Abd Shams ibn Abd Manaf, brother to Muhammad's great-grandfather Hashim.

Women and children

There are several sources that state that Abu Sufyan had sexual relations with several women prior to becoming a Muslim. Those hadith are not restricted to any particular source, but can be found in Shi'a, Sunni and Mutazilite sources. While Sunnis tend to question or reject those hadith, Shi'a and Mutazilite are prone to quote from those sources.

Abu Sufyan was married to Hind bint Utbah, who in 602 gave birth to Muawiyah I, who would later establish the Umayyad dynasty of caliphs.

However, controversial Muslim sources quoted by Shi'a and Mutazili scholars, but rejected by Sunnis state that the marriage to Muawiyah's mother was arranged since Hind bint Utbah was engaged in a Nikah Ijtimah; or polyandrous marriage. Thus, the genetic bond between Abu Sufyan and Muawiyah is disputed.[2]

Abu Sufyan also had relations with his kinswoman Saffya bint abi al-A'as, who bore him a daughter called Ramlah. Against her father's wished, Ramlah converted to Islam and migrated to Abyssinia with her husband. Later, after Ubayd-Allah had converted to Christianity, she moved to Medina and became one of Muhammad's wives, better known as "Umm Habiba" When Abu Sufyan heard about the marriage he commented, “this stallion will not be hit on the nose…” a phrase meaning that the husband is suitable for the bride (an unsuitable stallion trying to mate with a mare would be hit on the nose, hence the phrase). She later played an important role in his father's diplomatic attempts at reaching a settlement with Muhammad.

According to some sources, he was rumored to have a relation with Layla bint Harmalah, the mother of Amr ibn al-A'as, sources quoted by Shi'a and Mutazili scholars,[3] but rejected by Sunnis.

Abu Sufyan is also considered the father of Ziyad ibn Abihi. Ziyad was an illegitimate child and Abu Sufyan never recognized him during his lifetime, but in 664, his son Mu'awiyah controversially recognised Ziyad as a brother.


Opposition to Islam

Abu Sufyan was chief of the Banu Abd-Shams clan of the Quraish tribe, which made him one of the most powerful and well respected men in Mecca. Abu Sufyan viewed Muhammad as a threat to Mecca's social order, as a man aiming for political power who blasphemed the Quraish gods.

When the Quraish issued several acts of persecution to dissuade conversion to Islam, Abu Sufyan's daughter Ramlah was among those emigrating to Abyssinia for refuge.

Military conflict with Muhammad

After Muhammad had migrated to Medina in 622, Quraish confiscated the belongings of the Muslims. Muslims were seen as a threat to the caravans coming from Syria to Mecca. In 624, Abu Sufyan was the leader of such a caravan and as a Muslim force moved to intercept him, he called for help from the Quraish. This resulted in the Battle of Badr, which ended in a Muslim victory. Abu Sufyan however managed to bring his caravan home to Mecca. The death of most Quraish leaders in the battle left him the leader of Mecca.

Subsequently he was the military leader in the Meccan campaigns against Medina, such as the Battle of Uhud in 625 and the Battle of the Trench in 627, but could not attain final victory.

Eventually the two parties would agree to an armistice, the Treaty of Hudaybiyya in 628, which allowed Muslims to make the pilgrimage to the Kaaba.

Muslim Conquest of Mecca

When the armistice was violated in 630 by allies of the Quraish, Muhammad moved towards conquering Mecca. Abu Sufyan, sensing that the balances were now tilted in Muhammad's favor and that the Quraish were not strong enough to hinder the Muslims from conquering the city, travelled to Medina, trying to restore the treaty. During his stay, he was repulsed by Ali and by his own daughter Ramlah, who now was one of Muhammad's wives. Though Muhammad refused to reach an agreement and Abu Sufyan returned to Mecca empty handed, these efforts ultimately ensured that the conquest occurred without battle or bloodshed.

Muhammad assembled an army of approximately 10,000 men and marched towards Mecca. Again Abu Sufyan travelled back and forth between Mecca and Muhammad, still trying to reach a settlement. According to the sources, he found assistance in Muhammad's uncle Al-Abbas, though some scholars consider that historians writing under the rule of Abbas' descendants, the Abbasid dynasty, had exaggerated Abbas' role and downplayed the role of Sufyan, who was the ancestor of the Abbaside's enemies.[4]

On the eve of the conquest, Abu Sufyan adopted Islam. When asked by Muhammad, he conceded that the Meccan gods had proved powerless and that there were indeed "no god but God," the first part of the Islamic confession of faith. When asked about the second part, the prophethood of Muhammad, Abu Sufyan still expressed some doubt but eventually yielded to threats, issued according to different sources by either Abbas or Umar[5]

Later life

After the conquest of Mecca, Abu Sufyan fought as one of Muhammad's lieutenants in the subsequent wars. During the Siege of Taif, he lost an eye.

When Muhammed died in 632, Abu Sufyan was governor of Najran.[6] Ibn Ishaq records that after his conversion, Abu Sufyan was "an excellent Muslim." [7]According to al-Tabari, Abu Sufyan offered to support Ali against Abu Bakr, but Ali replied:

"By God, you do not intend to do anything but stir up dissension. For long you have desired evil for Islam. We do not need your advice." [8]

Abu Sufyan also fought in the Battle of Yarmouk in 636.

Abu Sufyan died at the age of 90 in 650 at Medina. His kinsman Uthman, who had become the third Caliph in 644 led the prayer on him.


Abu Sufyan's son Muawiyah became the founder of the Umayyad dynasty, the first Muslim dynasty which ruled the Islamic realm for a century from 661 to 750.

Sunni view him as an upright Sahabi, since they view all Sahaba as upright. The fact that Abu Sufyan fought for the Muslims and sacrificed his eyes in battle is held as further evidence for his uprightness. Sunnis hold that since Caliph Uthman led Abu Sufyan's funeral prayer, he could not have been a hypocrite. (See Sahih Bukhari 2:23:359) They also cite Muhammad himself, who didn't call Abu Sufyan as an infidel when the latter accepted Islam and by offering him the choice between having an eye in heaven or on earth, supposed that Abu Sufyan would enter heaven.

Shi'a have a very dim view of both his personality and life. Shi'a view him as a hypocrite that managed to infiltrate Islamic ranks and be included among the Muslims.[9]


  1. Rafiq Zakaria, The Struggle within Islam: The Conflict Between Religion and Politics (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1988), 62.
  2. The sources list four people who may have been Muawiyahs father:
    1. Abu-ibn-Umar ibn Musaafir (or Musaafir Abu Umar)
    2. Umar ibn Walid
    3. Abbas ibn Abd-al-Muttalib or Abu Sufyan.
    4. Sabah the Ethiopian or a unknown fourth.
    Some list Abu Sufyan as one of the four, other do not. In any case, Abu Sufyan accepted Muawiyah as his child. For this reason, Shi'a name him "Muˤāwiyya ibn Hind," after his mother. "The 'true' merits of Mu'awiya bin Hind" Shia Pen Revealing the Truth. Retrieved April 28, 2018.
  3. Nahjul Balagha, Peak of Eloquence Sermon 179 Retrieved April 28, 2018
  4. John Glubb, The Life and Times of Muhammad (NY: Stein & Day, 1970, ISBN 978-0812812466), 304-310.
  5. Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, translated by A. Guillaume, (NY: Oxford University Press), 546-547. It is unclear whether Umar or Abbas is speaking, but one of them says, "I said to him, 'submit and testify that there is no God but Allah and Muhamamd is the apostle of God before you lose your head', so he did so."
  6. Abu Al-Abbas Ahmad Bin Jaber Al-Baladhuri, The Origins of the Islamic State, translated by Philip K. Hitti, (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2002, ISBN 978-1931956635), 107.
  7. Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, translated by A. Guillaume (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0196360331), 570.
  8. al-Tabari, The History of Al-Tabari translated by Fred McGraw Donner, (State University of New York Press, 1993, ISBN 978-0791410714), 198-199.
  9. www.al-islam.org "A Shi’ite View of the Companions" Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project. Retrieved April 28, 2018.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Al-Baladhuri, Abu Al-Abbas Ahmad Bin Jaber. The Origins of the Islamic State, translated by Philip K. Hitti, first published in Beirut: Khayats, 1966; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2002. ISBN 978-1931956635
  • Donner, Fred McGraw (trans.). The History of Al-Tabari. State University of New York Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0791410714
  • Glubb, John. The Life and Times of Muhammad. NY: Stein & Day, 1970. ISBN 978-0812812466
  • Ishaq, Ibn. The Life of Muhammad, translated by A. Guillaume, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0196360331
  • Tabarī, and Fred McGraw Donner. The Conquest of Arabia. SUNY series in Near Eastern studies. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0791410714
  • Zakaria, Rafiq. The Struggle within Islam: The Conflict Between Religion and Politics. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1988. ISBN 0140107940

External links

All links retrieved June 14, 2023.


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