Abu Sufyan bin Harb (r.a.)

Abu Sufyan Sahr b. Harb b. Umayya (d. 31 H/651-52 AD)

He was one of the leaders of the tribe of Quraysh; a Companion.

He was born in Makkah fifty-seven years before the Migration (565 AD). He is called  Abu Hanzala due to his son Hanzala, who was killed in the Battle of Badr. His mother was Safiyya bint Hazn al-Hilaliyya, who was the maternal aunt of Maymuna, one of the wives of the Prophet. His father was Harb b. Umayya, one of the notables of Quraysh. He spent his childhood in Makkah in comfort. Abbas, The paternal uncle of the Prophet, was his most sincere childhood friend.

Abu Sufyan was engaged in trade like his father. He was one of the few Makkans who could read and write. In a short time, he became a person who was consulted and relied on; he became a notable of Quraysh who ruled the commercial affairs of his tribe. After the Messenger of Allah declared his prophethood, he sided against Islam like the other notables of Quraysh. The competition and enmity between the Umayyad family and Sons of Hashim, to which the Prophet belonged, played an important role in this attitude of Abu Sufyan’s.

Abu Sufyan was among the polytheists who were in the delegations sent to Abu Talib to dissuade his nephew from his cause and who decided to kill Muhammad (pbuh) by gathering in Darun-Nadwa when Islam spread rapidly in Makkah and Hamza and Umar became Muslims, which caused great worry in the tribe of Quraysh. However, he was not among those who persecuted the Prophet and the Muslims physically. The political influence that Abu Sufyan had in Makkah during the youth of Muhammad (pbuh) was not due to having an effective position or office but because of Umayyad's wealth and influence along with his personal talents.

Two years after the Migration, the Muslims wanted to grab a trading caravan coming from Syria under the command of Abu Sufyan upon the order of the Prophet. When Abu Sufyan was informed about it, he changed the route of the caravan, escaped from the Muslims and reached Makkah. However, this incident led to the Battle of Badr with the provocation of Abu Jahl, the leader of Quraysh. When Abu Jahl was killed in this battle, Abu Sufyan became the leader of the Makkan polytheists. Quraysh gave him the duty of taking the revenge of Badr defeat as soon as possible and they allocated the goods in the Syrian caravan, which caused this war, to the expenditures of the war against the Muslims.

Abu Sufyan, who vowed that he would not take a bath unless he took the revenge of Badr, took part in the Battle of Uhud, which took place in the middle of the month of Shawwal in the third year of the Migration (March, 625 AD) as the leader of the army of the polytheists. His wife, Hind bint Utba, played the tambourine with the other Qurayshi women in order to encourage the army to fight. The polytheists could not have a decisive victory in this battle but they took their revenge to a certain extent when Hamza, the paternal uncle of the Prophet, was martyred by Wahshi. Hind extracted the liver of Hz. Hamza and chewed it with the same feeling of revenge. Abu Sufyan was also the commander of Quraysh during the Battle of Khandaq. It is seen that this duty of leadership of Abu Sufyan’s continued until the Conquest of Makkah and that he played an important role in all of the actions against the Muslims.

When the Prophet sent Dihya b. Khalifa al-Kalbi to Syria to invite Heraclius, the Byzantine Emperor, to Islam (Muharram 7 H/May 628 AD), Abu Sufyan was in Syria with a trade caravan of thirty people. When Heraclius was in Jerusalem/Quds (according to some narrations, in Homs) and when he received the letter of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), he said he wanted to speak to someone belonging to his tribe. Abu Sufyan and his friends in the caravan, who were in Gaza then, were taken to Quds upon the request of the Emperor. Heraclius preferred to speak to Abu Sufyan since he belonged to a family that was close to that of the Messenger of Allah. He asked Abu Sufyan about the lineage and ethics of the Prophet, the social status of those who became Muslims, whether their number increase or not, whether any people exited from Islam after becoming Muslims, what he ordered, who won the battles that he joined, etc. It is narrated that Abu Sufyan wanted to give him wrong information but he had to tell the truth since he feared that it would be heard by others if he told lies.

When Makkans violated the treaty they made with the Muslims by helping Sons of Bakr, the Prophet promised to help the tribe of Khuzaa, his ally. This panicked the Qurayshis. They sent Abu Sufyan, their leader, to Madinah to renew the treaty. However, nobody was interested in Abu Sufyan in Madinah including his daughter Umm Habiba, who was one of the wives of the Prophet. This shook his prestige in the eye of the Qurayshis. When the Islamic army, which set off in order to conquer Makkah, established its headquarters in Juhfa, near Makkah, Abu Sufyan entered into the presence of the Prophet upon the insistence of Abbas b. Abdulmuttalib, his childhood friend, and had to become a Muslim. The Prophet rewarded him on the day when Makkah was conquered by declaring that those who took refuge in Abu Sufyan’s house would be forgiven. When Abu Sufyan himself informed Makkans about it, his wife showed a reaction against him before everybody else did.

That Abu Sufyan felt happy when the vanguards of the Muslims were beaten in the first phase of the Battle of Hunayn, in which he took part,  (Ibn Hisham, II, 443) showed that he had not yet accepted Islam heartily. When the Prophet distributed the booty obtained in this battle to the mujahids, he gave Abu Sufyan, who was among muallafa al-qulub, 100 camels and forty uqiyyas of silver. His sons Yazid and Muawiyah were also regarded to have been in the same group and were given 100 camels each. This favor done to Abu Sufyan, who was once the leader of a city and then became an ordinary citizen, and his sons pleased them a lot.

Abu Sufyan took part in the Siege of Taif and lost one of his eyes there. Abu Sufyan, who was among the witnesses of the treaty made with the people of Najran in 9 H (630 AD), was appointed as the governor of Jurash city, which surrendered unconditionally according to Balazuri. (Futuh, p. 84). He was the governor of Najran during the caliphate of Hz. Abu Bakr. (ibid, p. 150). When the Prophet died, Abu Sufyan was in Makkah. According to Ibn Ishaq, the Messenger of Allah gave him the duty of demolishing the idol Manat, which was in Qudayd. Abu Sufyan opposed to Hz. Abu Bakr’s being the caliph but paid allegiance to him afterwards. When he was seventy years old, he joined the army that was sent to conquer Syria. He made great efforts in the Battle of Yarmuk to encourage the soldiers under the command of Yazid, his son. Tabari states that he lost his eye in this battle. (Tarikh, I, 2101) According to Dhahabi, he lost one of his eyes in the Siege of Taif and the other in Yarmuk. (Alamun-Nubala, II, 106)

Abu Sufyan died in Madinah in 31 H (651-52 AD). They also say he died in 30 H (650-51 AD), 32 H (652-53 AD) or 34 H (654-55).

Abu Sufyan, who is reported to have been among the scribes of the Prophet (M. Mustafa al-A‘zami, p. 39), narrated some hadiths from the Messenger of Allah (see Wensinck, al-Mu’jam, VIII, 105). It is known that Muawiyah, his son, and Qays b. Abu Hazim narrated hadiths from him along with Ibn Abbas, who narrated his talk with Heraclius.

Sunni resources state that Abu Sufyan became a sincere Muslim after accepting Islam but Shiite writers claim the opposite. There are also some writers who claim that he was a munafiq (hypocrite) and an atheist, that he did not believe in the Prophet and that he adopted the madhhab of laadriyya (agnosticism) (Ali Sami an-Nashshar, I, 198). Suleman Essop Dangor states that some historians who give information about Abu Sufyan show hostility toward him and that they do not give objective information (al-Ilm, p. 60). That Abu Sufyan took part in the conquests in Syria despite his old age and that he tried to encourage the Muslim soldiers in Yarmuk are enough to show that the claims against him are deliberate. Besides, it does not seem possible for Sunni resources to write that a person who does not adopt Islam heartily is a sincere Muslim.


Wensinck, al-Mu’jam, VIII, 105; Bukhari, “Bad’ul-Wahy”, 6; Waqidi, al-Maghazi, see Index; Ibn Hisham, as-Sira, I, 147, 264, 295, 417; II, 50, 60, 67, 75-77, 93-94, 214, 215, 395-397, 400, 402-403, 443, 492-493, see also Index; Ibn Sa‘d, at-Tabaqat, WIII, 44, 99, 236; Zubayri, Nasabu Quraysh, p. 121-122; Jahiz, al-Uthmaniyya (published by Abdussalam M. Harun), Cairo 1374/1955, p. 60, 71, 72, see also Index; Ibn Qutayba, al-Ma’arif (Ukkasha), p. 342, 575, 586; Balazuri, Ansab, IW/I, p. 1 ff.; the same writer, Futuh (Fayda), p. 84, 150, see also Index; Tabari, Tarikh (de Goeje), I, 1345 ff., 1364, 1418, 1437 ff., 1458, 1533, 1633, 1827, 2101; Ibn Hazm, Jamhara, p. 274; Ibn Abdulbar, al-Isti’ab, II, 183-184; Ibnul-Athir, Usdul-Ghaba, III, 12-13; Ibn Hudayda, al-Misbahul-Mudiy (published by M. Azimuddin), Beirut 1405/1985, I, 108-109; Dhahabi, A’lamun-Nubala’, II, 105-107; the same writer, Tarikhul-Islam: ‘Ahdul-Khulafa’ir-Rashidin, p. 368-370; Ibn Hajar, al-Isaba, II, 178-180; the same writer, Tahdhibut-Tahdhib, IW, 411-412; L. Caetani, Islam Tarihi (translated by Hüseyin Jahid), Istanbul 1924-27, WII, 43, 103; Yahya Muhammad al-Harithi, Abu Sufyan b. Harb fil-Jahiliyya wal-Islam, Jizan 1973; Ali Sami an-Nashshar, Nash’atul-Fikril-Falsafi fil-Islam, Cairo 1977, I, 198; II, 31; Muhammad Khidr Husayn, Nakdu Kitab fish-shi’ril-Jahili (published by Ali Rıza at-Tunusi), [np] 1977 (Daru Hassan), p. 151-153; Badran, Tahdhibu Tarikhi Dimashq, Beirut 1379/1979, WI, 390-409; M. Mustafa al-A‘zami, Kuttabun-Nabi, Riyad 1401/1981, p. 39; Mustafa Fayda, İslâmiyet’in Güney Arabistan’a Yayılışı, Ankara 1982, p. 30, 64; Abbas al-Qummi, al-Kuna wal-Alqab, Beirut 1403/1983, I, 88-93; Muhammad Jasim al-Mashhadani, Mawaridul-Balazuri, Makkah 1986, I, 197-198; Suleman Essop Dangor, “Abu Sufyan: Study of the Sources”, al-’Ilm, IX, Westville 1409/1989, p. 54-60; W. Montgomery Watt, “Abu Sufyan b. Harb”, EI² (Ing.), I, 155-156.

Quoted from ‘Diyanet İslam Ansiklopedisi, Abu Sufyan B. Harb Item’

Author: İrfan Aycan

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