An Inscription Mentioning Muʿāwiya Ibn Abī Sufyān, Late 1st / Early 2nd Century AH

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First Composed: 30th December 2014

Last Modified: 2nd January 2015

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Assalamu ʿalaykum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:




Figure (a) original inscription, (b) its facsimile and (c) contents.


Late 1st / Early 2nd century AH


Not known.


Kufic script.


The translation of the inscription is:

  1. O Lord, send prayers upon Muḥammad, your Servant and Messenger, and increase his reward
  2. and bless his station. And wrote Saʿīd bin Dhakwān mawla of Muʿāwiya
  3. ibn Abī Sufyān, as he asked God with the best (names) with which any servant of the first
  4. and last (had asked), to bless him with the honour of fighting in His path.


This is a unique inscription attesting the name of Muʿāwiya ibn Abī Sufyān. There is no mention of his customary title amīr al-muʾminīn as seen in all the earliest inscriptions (Arabic inscription on a dam; Arab-Sassanian coins; Protocol bearing caliph/governer's name and formulae; Greek inscription of Hammat Gader; Two seals; Inscription on the dam) that contain his name. This inscription was discovered by the Desert Team (Fariq Al-Sahra) from Saudi Arabia in October 2013,[1] who noted the absence of the title amīr al-muʾminīn suggests it was inscribed before Muʿāwiya became caliph in 41 AH / 661 CE. This seems sensible as all other Muʿāwiya inscriptions from the 1st century AH mention this. In addition, the inscriber had plenty of room and his inscription was long, thus space considerations are unlikely to have played a role here. Additionally, the script appears characteristic of others from the 1st century hijra.

However, there are a number of items which caution a very early date. First, the script has many features that are incompatible with this time period. For example, medial ʿayn appears like an inverted triangle (closed top), not a ‘v’ shape (open top) that is the case with all the earliest Muʿāwiya inscriptions discovered so far. The presence of a closed top ʿayn moves us towards the end of the 1st century hijra and beyond. A related observation concerning the word ‘Muʿāwiya’ is the presence of final alif after ʿayn. This inscription as well as the inscription on two lead seals (c. 44 AH / 664 CE) show the presence of final alif after ʿayn. However, it is absent in the two dam inscriptions. Second, there is the mention of Prophet Muḥammad, described as God's Servant and Messenger, for whom God is to confer blessings on, mirroring Qur'an 33:56; these religious constructs also have parallels in the early ḥadīth literature. Such an early mention of Muḥammad in this context would be unprecedented, and would bring us back almost 25 years from the next earliest mention of his name which is on a coin in 66 AH.

This inscription has been briefly discussed by Imbert in a recent article, though he does not give an edition of the text. He points out the absence of the title amīr al-muʾminīn suggests that Dhakwān, the father of Saʿīd, would have been the mawla of Muʿāwiya prior to his accession to the caliphate in 41 AH / 661 CE.[2]


Jabal Ḥismā, in the northwest of Saudi Arabia.

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[1] They are a group of amateur Saudi travellers who make field trips across Saudi Arabia reporting on matters relating to archaeology, geography and history, among other things. They have discovered and/or photographed hundreds of Arabic inscriptions, that they generously share with other researchers. The field of early Arabic epigraphy owes them a huge debt of thanks and gratitude, though their efforts are rarely acknowledged.

[2] F. Imbert, "Califes, Princes et Poètes Dans Les Graffiti du Début de l’Islam", Romano-Arabica, 2015, Volume 15, p. 68 and p. 76 (Fig. 5).

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