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'Amr ibn al-'As

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'Amr ibn al-'As

`Amr ibn al-'As
Governor of Egypt
In office
Monarch Muawiyah I
Preceded by Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr
Succeeded by Utba ibn Abi Sufyan
In office
Preceded by None (Conquest of Egypt from the Byzantine Empire)
Succeeded by Abdallah ibn Sa'ad
Personal details
Born 14 February 585
Mecca, Arabia
Died 664
Military service
Allegiance Rashidun Caliphate
Ummayad Caliphate
Service/branch Rashidun army
Ummayad Army
Years of service 634–636
Rank Commander
Governor of Egypt (642–644), (657–664)
Commands Conquest of Palestine
Conquest of Egypt, First Muslim Civil War
Domains of Rashidun empire under four caliphs. The divided phase relates to the Rashidun Caliphate of Ali during the First Fitna.
  Strongholds of the Rashidun Caliphate of Ali during the First Fitna
  Region under the control of Muawiyah I during the First Fitna
  Region under the control of Amr ibn al-As during the First Fitna

`Amr ibn al-`As (Arabic: عمرو بن العاص‘Amrū ibn al-‘Āṣ; c. 585 – January 6, 664) was an Arab military commander who is most noted for leading the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 640. A contemporary of Muhammad, and one of the Sahaba ("Companions"), who rose quickly through the Muslim hierarchy following his conversion to Islam in the year 8 AH (629). He founded the Egyptian capital of Fustat and built the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As at its center.


Early life

ʻAmr belonged to the Banu Sahm[1] clan of the Quraysh. Assuming he was over eighty years old when he died, he was born before 592. 'Amr ibn al-'As was born in Arabia in the city of Mecca and died in Egypt.

He was the son of Layla bint Harmalah aka "Al-Nabighah".[2] Before his military career, ʻAmr was a trader, who had accompanied caravans along the commercial trading routes through Asia and the Middle East, including Egypt.[3]

'Amr was a shrewd, highly intelligent man who belonged to the nobility of the Quraysh. He fought with the Quraysh against Islam in several battles. As he went to fight the Muslims, he saw them praying, got highly interested and tried to find out more about Islam. He was determinedly hostile to Islam. In fact he was Quraysh’s envoy to the Negus, the ruler of Abyssinia. Once he converted to Islam with Khalid ibn al-Walid, he became a great commander fighting for the Islamic cause. The first mosque to be build in Africa was erected under his patronage and is still known as The Mosque of Amr ibn al-As. He came to Egypt as the commander in chief of the Muslim Arab troops in 640 AD.

Muhammad's era

Like the other Quraysh chiefs, he opposed Islam in the early days.

ʻAmr headed the delegation that the Quraysh sent to Abyssinia to prevail upon the ruler, Aṣḥama ibn Abjar (possibly Armah), to turn away the Muslims from his country. The mission failed and the ruler of Abyssinia refused to oblige the Quraysh.

After the migration of Muhammad to Medina ʻAmr took part in all the battles that the Quraysh fought against the Muslims.[4]

He commanded a Quraish contingent at the battle of Uhud. He took with him his wife, Rayta bint Munabbih ibn al-Hajjaj, who was the mother of his son Abdullah.[5]

ʻAmr ibn al-ʻĀs was married to Umm Kulthum bint Uqba[6][7] but he divorced her when she embraced Islam.

In the company of Khalid ibn al-Walid, he rode from Mecca to Medina where both of them converted to Islam in 629-30. Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Ubaidah ibn al Jarrah served under ʻAmr ibn al-ʻĀs in the campaign of Dhat as-Salasil and had offered their prayers behind him for many weeks. At that time, ʻAmr ibn al-ʻĀs was their chief not only in the army but also as a leader in religious services.[8]

ʻAmr was dispatched by Muhammad to Oman and played a key role in the conversion of the leaders of that nation, Jayfar and 'Abbād ibn Al-Juland. He was then made governor of the region until shortly after Muhammad's death.

There are some hadith regarding him and his father's will.[9]

Under Abu Bakr and Umar

ʻAmr was sent by the Caliph Abu Bakr with the Muslim Arab armies into Palestine following Muhammad's death. It is believed that he played an important role in the Arab conquest of that region, and he is known to have been at the battles of Ajnadayn and Yarmouk as well as the siege of Damascus.

The Mosque of Amr ibn al-As in modern-day Cairo

Following the success over the Byzantines in Syria, Amr suggested to Umar that he march on Egypt, to which Umar agreed.

The actual invasion began towards the end of 639, as Amr crossed the Sinai Peninsula with 3,500-4,000 men. He is reported to have celebrated the feast of pilgrimaga in Arish on 10th Dhul Hij A. H 18 or 12 December 640. After taking the small fortified towns of Pelusium (Arabic: Al-Farama) and beating back a Byzantine surprise attack near Bilbeis, Amr headed towards the Babylon Fortress (in the region of modern-day Coptic Cairo). After some skirmishes south of the area, Amr marched north towards Heliopolis, with 12,000 men reinforcements who had arrived on 6 June 640 reaching him from Syria, against the Byzantine forces in Egypt, under general Theodorus. The resulting Muslim victory at the Battle of Heliopolis brought about the fall of much of the country. The Heliopolis battle resolved fairly quickly, though the Babylon Fortress withstood a siege of several months, and the Byzantine capital of Alexandria, which had been the capital of Egypt for a thousand years, surrendered a few months after that. A peace treaty was signed in late 641, in the ruins of a palace in Memphis.[10] Despite a brief re-conquest by Byzantine forces in 645, after the Muslim victory at the Battle of Nikiou the country remained firmly in Muslim Arab hands.

Needing a new capital, Amr suggested that they set up an administration in the large and well-equipped city of Alexandria, at the western edge of the Nile Delta. However, Caliph Umar refused, saying that he did not want the capital to be separated from him by a body of water. So in 641 Amr founded a new city on the eastern side of the Nile, centered on his own tent which was near the Babylon Fortress. Amr also founded a mosque at the center of his new city—it was the first mosque in Egypt, which also made it the first mosque on the continent of Africa. The Mosque of Amr ibn al-As still exists today in Old Cairo, though it has been extensively rebuilt over the centuries, and nothing remains of the original structure. One corner of the mosque contains the tomb of his son, 'Abd Allah ibn 'Amr ibn al-'As.

Although some Egyptians did not support the Byzantine forces during the Arab conquest, some villages started to organise against the new invaders. After the Battle of Nikiou on 13 May 641, Arab troops, having defeated the Byzantine forces, destroyed many Egyptian villages on their march to Alexandria as the Delta rebelled against the new invaders. The Egyptian resistance seems to have been village by village without a unified command and therefore failed.

After founding Fustat, Amr was then recalled to the capital (which had, by then, moved from Medina to Damascus) where he became Mu'awiyah's close advisor.

Muhammad had told Amr "that when you conquer Egypt be kind to its people because they are your protégée kith and kin".

Muhammad's wife, Maria al-Qibtiyya (the Copt) was an Egyptian. After Amr ibn al-Aas conquered Egypt, he informed Mikakaus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, who retorted that "Only a prophet could invoke such a relationship!", referring to Abraham's marriage to Hagar .

Later life

After his military conquests, Amr was an important player in internal conflicts within he Islamic empire during the First Fitna.He played a role in the rise of Mu'awiyah, who reappointed him governor of Egypt. Amr died in Egypt in 664 during Mu'awiyah's reign.

Amr as Mu'awiyah's arbiter at the Battle of Siffin

Late in Amr’s life, he was sent out on a mission from Mu'awiyah's camp to negotiate a deal after the battle of Siffin fought between Mu'awiyah and Ali. A first meeting was agreed upon by both parties, but no conclusion was reached. When Mu'awiyah was close to losing he stirred up political trouble for Ali and pushed him to agree to another meeting.[11] Amr, taking this chance, made a pledge to Mu’awiyah that if he could defeat Ali then he should be apponted governor of Egypt. Mu’awiyah agreed and sent Amr as his representative[12] In the framework of these negotiations both Mu’awiyah and Ali agreed to accept the Qur'an as the base for the final judgment and appoint Abd Allah b. Qays Abu Musa al-Ash’ari as the arbiter for the Ali camp and Amr as the arbiter for the Mu’awiyah camp.[13] If they did not find what they were looking for in the Qur'an, they would use the example or Sunnah of the Prophet, consisting of the recorded actions from his life. Lastly, they decided that both Ali and Mu’awiyah would follow through with whatever verdict came out of the negotiations.[14]

This led Amr to attempt to buy out Abu Musa, saying that if he sided with Mu’awiyah he would give him governance over any province he wanted. Abu Musa rejected this offer. So Amr advised Mu’awiyah to continue blaming Ali for the death of Uthman.[15] Amr argued that Mu’awiyah had a blood revenge for his tribe – this being the reason for the violence and distrust of Ali.[16] Both arbiters eventually agreed that neither Mu’awiyah nor Ali were worth of the role of caliph.[17] This agreement was made in private between these two alone. As their choice was announced, people came together to hear the verdict. Amr let Abu Musa speak first:

“O people, surely the best of men is he who is good to himself and the most wicked is he who is evil towards himself. You know full well that these wars have spared neither the righteous and the God-fearing, nor the one in the right, nor the one in the wrong. I have, therefore, after careful consideration, decided that we should depose both Ali and Mu’awiya and appoint for this affair Abd Allahb. Umat b. al-Khattab, for he has neither stretched a hand nor drawn a tongue in a these wars. Behold, I shall remove Ali from caliphate as I now remove my ring from my finger.”[18]

Then it was Amr’s turn to speak:

“Behold, this is Abd Allah b. Qays Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari , the deputy of the people of Yaman to the Messenger and representative of Umar b. al-Khattab and the arbiter of the people of Iraq; he has removed his companion Ali from the caliphate. As for me, I confirm Mu’awiyah in the caliphate as firmly as this ring sits around my finger.”[19]

This statement by Amr made Abu Musa upset because he said in secret that he would reject both of them as leader. This led to the fall of Ali’s power and the rise of Mu’awiyah as the leader of the Muslim empire, which would change the course of the Empire. Because of Amr’s support of Mu’awiyah, he was made the governor of Egypt.[20]

Amr in Egypt

Amr had popular support in Egypt amongst the Coptic Christian population. In the book "The Great Arab Conquests" Hugh Kennedy writes that Cyrus the Roman governor had expelled the Coptic patriarch Benjamin into exile. When Amr occupied Alexandria, a Coptic nobleman (duqs) called Sanutius persuaded him to send out a proclamation of safe conduct for Benjamin and an invitation to return to Alexandria. When he arrived, after thirteen years in concealment, Amr treated him with respect. He was then instructed by the governor to resume control over the Coptic Church. He arranged for the restoration of the monasteries in the Wadi Natrun that had been ruined by the Chalcedonian Christians, which still exists as a functioning monastery in the present day." [21]

Later Uthman removed Amr from the position of Governor of Egypt.

On Amr's return many years later the Egyptian population also worked with Amr.[22] In the book "The Great Arab Conquests" Hugh Kennedy writes "The pious biographer of Coptic patriarch Benjamin presents us with the striking image of the patriarch prayed for the success of the Muslim commander Amr against the Christians of the Cyrenaica. Benjamin survived for almost twenty years after the fall of Egypt to the Muslims, dying of full years and honour in 661. His body was laid to rest in the monastery of St Macarius, where he is still venerated as a saint. There can be no doubt that he played a major role in the survival of the Coptic Church" [23] Coptic patriarch Benjamin also prayed for Amr when he moved to take Libya.[24]

In the book "The Great Arab Conquests" Hugh Kennedy writes "Even more striking is the verdict of John of Nikiu. John was no admirer of Muslim government and was fierce in his denunciation, but he says of Amr: 'He extracted the taxes which had been determined upon but he took none of the property of the churches, and he committed no act of spoliation or plunder, and he preserved them throughout all his days'"[25]

In the book "The Great Arab Conquests" Hugh Kennedy writes "Of all the early Muslim conquests, that of Egypt was the swiftest and most complete. Within a space of two years the country had come entirely under Arab rule. Even more remarkably, it has remained under Muslim rule ever since. Seldom in history can so massive a political change have happened so swiftly and been so long lasting" [26]

Uqba then used Egypt as a launch pad to move across North Africa all the way to the Atlantic ocean.[27] In the book "The Great Arab Conquests" Hugh Kennedy writes "When Uqba reached the Atlantic. The moment has passed into legend. He is said to have ridden his horse into the sea until the water came up to its belly. He shouted out 'O Lord, if the sea did not stop me, I would go through lands like Alexander the Great (Dhu'l l-Qarnayan), defending your faith' The image of the Arab warrior whose progress in conquering in the name of God was halted only by the ocean remains one of the most arresting and memorable in the whole history of the conquests.[28]

Further reading

  • Butler, Alfred J. The Arab Conquest of Egypt and the Last Thirty years of Roman Dominion Oxford, 1978.
  • Charles, R. H. The Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu: Translated from Zotenberg's Ethiopic Text, 1916. Reprinted 2007. Evolution Publishing, ISBN 978-1-889758-87-9.

See also


  1. ^ Archived 1 November 2007 at WebCite
  2. ^ Sermon 179 Archived 1 November 2007 at WebCite
  3. ^ Andrew Beattie, Cairo: A Cultural History, p. 94
  4. ^
  5. ^ Muhammad ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah. Translated by Guillaume, A. (1955). The Life of Muhammad, p. 371. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ (German) Archived 1 November 2007 at WebCite
  7. ^ (German) Archived 1 November 2007 at WebCite
  8. ^ Archived 1 November 2007 at WebCite
  9. ^ see Sunan Abu Dawud 2877
  10. ^ Beattie, p. 95
  11. ^ Veccia Vaglieni, Il conflitto’Ali-Mu’awiyacla seccessions khanigita riesaminat alla lucedi fonti ibadite’ in Annali dell’Istiulo Univeristaro Orientale Napoli, N.S. IV 1-94 translated by Madelung, Wilferd
  12. ^ Marsham, Andrew. "The Pact (Amāna) Between Muʿāwiya Ibn Abī Sufyān And ʿamr Ibn Al-ʿāṣ (656 Or 658 CE): ‘Documents’ And The Islamic Historical Tradition*." Journal Of Semitic Studies 57.1 (2012): 69-96. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.
  13. ^ Ayoub, Mahmoud. The Crisis of Muslim History: Religion and Politics in Early Islam. Oxford: Oneworld, 2003. Print.
  14. ^ Al-Tabari. The History of Al-Tabari. Trans. G.R. Hawting. Vol. 16. New York: State University of New York, n.d. Print.
  15. ^ Holt, Peter Malcolm, et al., eds. The Cambridge History of Islam. Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, 1977.
  16. ^ Madelung, Wilferd. The Succession to Muḥammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.
  17. ^ Al-Tabari. The History of Al-Tabari. Trans. G.R. Hawting. Vol. 16. New York: State University of New York, n.d. Print.
  18. ^ Ayoub, Mahmoud. The Crisis of Muslim History: Religion and Politics in Early Islam. Oxford: Oneworld, 2003. Print.
  19. ^ Ibd
  20. ^ Wensinck, A.J.. "ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. Augustana College. 09 October 2013
  21. ^ The Great Arab Conquests By Hugh Kennedy, page 164
  22. ^ The Great Arab Conquests By Hugh Kennedy, page 167
  23. ^ The Great Arab Conquests By Hugh Kennedy, page 164
  24. ^ The Great Arab Conquests By Hugh Kennedy, page 163
  25. ^ The Great Arab Conquests By Hugh Kennedy, page 165
  26. ^ The Great Arab Conquests By Hugh Kennedy, page 165
  27. ^ The Great Arab Conquests By Hugh Kennedy, page 212
  28. ^ The Great Arab Conquests By Hugh Kennedy, page 214
  • (10) Glubb J.B. The Great Arab Conquests. Quartet Books, London 1963

External links

Preceded by
Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr
Governor of Egypt
Succeeded by
Utba ibn Abi Sufyan
New title Governor of Egypt
Succeeded by
Abdallah ibn Sa'ad
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