Abdullah ibn Saba'
Abd Allah ibn Sabaʾ al-Ḥimyarī (or Sabāʾ, also sometimes called ibn al-Sawdāʾ, ibn Wahb, or ibn Ḥarb) was a 7th-century figure in Islamic history who is often associated with a group of followers called the Sabaʾiyya (Arabic: سبئية).
Modern historians differed on the historicity of Ibn Saba'. Some believe that Abdullah Ibn Saba may have actually been several figures (Hodgson), semi-legendary or legendary (Taha Hussein, Bernard Lewis, Wilferd Madelung, Leone Caetani, and Shia historians) Others such as Israel Friedlander, Sabatino Moscati, and Sunni historians affirm his existence. His Jewish origin has also been contested. Some modern historians assert that Sayf ibn Umar fabricated the episode about the killing of Uthman to "exonerate the people of Medina from participation in the caliph's murder" and the movement to support Ali as a successor to Muhammad did not exist in the time of Uthman. With the exception of Taha Hussein, most modern Sunni writers affirm the existence of Ibn Saba'. In a similar vein, Shia writers deny Ibn Saba's historical existence to rid Shia'ism of the accusation by Sunni writers that Shia'ism is originally based on Judaic doctrines.
According to Sunni and Shia sources, Abdullah bin Saba' was a Yamanite Jewish convert to Islam. M.G.S. Hodgson doubts that Ibn Saba' was a Jew, and suggests that Ibn Saba' and Ibn al-Sawada' should be considered as two separate individuals. According to Leone Caetani, Ibn Saba in origin was a purely political supporter of Ali, "around whom later generations imagined a religious conspiracy like that of the Abbasids." Taha Hussein and Ali al-Wardi maintain that Ibn Saba' was the creation of Umayyad propaganda.
However, Israel Friedlander concludes that Ibn Saba' and the Saba'iyya did, in fact, exist. His work has also been attested to by Sabatino Moscati. Linda D. Lau and A. R. Armush also accept Sayf's accounts and the role of the Saba'iyya at the Battle of the Camel.
Concerning Ibn Saba' religious beliefs, particularly that of the Saba'iyya, W. F. Tucker noted that they are more complete and better recorded in sources devoted to heresiography. Matti Musa points out that the Saba'iyya as a ghulat sect did in fact exist, noting that their views have been seriously considered by both Sunni and Shia heresiographers. Hodgson states that there are contradictions in what religious views is ascribed to him and his followers, but we can assume that he was a founder or a hero of one or more sects called Sabaʾiyya, which exalted the position of Ali.
M. G. S. Hodgson concludes that he was most likely not a Jew. W. F. Tucker suggests that it was possible that the attribution of Jewish ancestry to Ibn Saba' on his parental side and imputation of black descent on his mother's side, was fabricated to discredit his credentials as a Muslim Arab and "thus stigmatize all ideas associated with him". Bernard Lewis states that modern critical scholarship cast doubt on his Jewishness. Bernard Lewis, citing the example of Ibn Saba', states that there is tendency in Islamic sources to attribute subversive and extremist doctrines to Jewish origins, conspiracy or instigation. G. Levi Della Vida also rejects his Jewish origin and maintains that Ibn Saba' was an Arab.
However, according to Hartwig Hirschfeld, Abdullah bin Saba' was a Jew from Yemen who embraced Islam. Israel Friedlander suggested that he may have been a son of an Ethiopian Falasha woman, which explains why he was called "ibn al-Sawdāʾ". W. F. Tucker, after examining the different arguments, concludes that "Whatever is the case regarding his ethnic identity, it is quite probable that Ibn Saba' was a Yemenite, and that he came from a Jewish milieu".
Traditionally, Abd Allah ibn Sabaʾ is considered as the first of the ghulāt. He may have been the first to deny that Ali had died and predicted his return (rajʿa), which was considered one form of ghulū. Also, the notion of the absence (ghayba) of an imam seem to have appeared first among the ghulāt.
Heinz Halm records him as a representative of a Ghulat group from the city of Seleucia-Ctesiphon (al-Madā'in) who came to see ‘Alī in Kūfah. When Ibn Saba' proclaimed divinity, then ‘Alī denied this angrily and exiled him back to Seleucia-Ctesiphon. Heinz Halm adds that Islamic writers such as Ašʿari in Maqālāt, Baḡdādi in Feraq have said that Ibn Saba' was the first person who idolized Ali ibn Abi Talib. He preached that ʿAli was God (al-elāh). After ʿAli’s death, he is said to maintain this idea that "a devil in ʿAli’s appearance had been murdered" and ʿAli had ascended to heaven and that his occultation (rajʿa) was imminent.
Examining his roles in Uthman’s Killing and emergence of Shia
Wilferd Madelung after reviewing the accounts of Sayf ibn Umar on the alleged role of Abdullah ibn Saba' in the rebellion against Uthman and emergence of Shi'a asserts ‘’few if any modern historians would accept Sayf's legend of Ibn Saba’’
Taha Hussein asserts that the "fabrication" of ibn Saba' was done by the enemies of the Shī‘a; that the insertion of a "Jewish element" would discredit the Shī‘a. He noted that the absence of any record of ibn Saba' being present at the Battle of Siffin suggests that ibn Saba' is a fictitious person.
Israel Friedlander, Julius Wellhausen, and most particularly, Leone Caetani, assert that Sayf fabricated the episode about killing of Uthman to "exonerate the people of Medina from participation in the caliph's murder" and as Friedlander adds finding a "scapegoat for the troubles surrounding Uthman" and any complicity in the strife resulting in the death of third caliph. Tucker asserts that although it may have been the case, there is no concrete evidence supporting this theory. They note that sources older than al-Tabari are silent on Ibn Saba' and his role in the agitation against Uthman. "They aver that the movement for supporting Ali as heir and testamentary trustee of the prophet did not exist in the time of Uthman as Ibn Saba' had alleged. Therefore they refuse to accept the authenticity of Ibn Saba's claim that Ali was the heir of prophet". Caetani noted that a religious conspiracy may have been created around the person of Ibn Sabaʾ even though he may have been just a political supporter of Ali.
However, W. F. Tucker notes that the suggestion that Sayf is not reliable is no longer sustainable. Tucker and Landau-Tasseron point out that although Sayf may have been an unscrupulous hadith collector, this should not detract from his general reliability as a transmitter of historical information (akhbārī). Tucker also states that even if Sayf's accounts of Ibn Saba' was a fabrication, he appears to be only the transmitter of the story and not the ultimate source. He adds that accusations of bias could equally be leveled at other akhbārīs contemporary to Sayf, including the Shi'a historian Abu Mikhnaf. Moreover, Fuat Sezgin, Albrecht Noth, and Martin Hinds have also challenged Wellhausen's views and placed Sayf on an equal footing with other traditionalists.
Linda D. Lau and A. R. Armush accept Sayf's accounts and the role of the Saba'iyya at the Battle of the Camel. They point out that traditionalists other than Sayf did not give an explanation to why the hostilities broke out after the near-settlement. Not only Sayf's account is the sole exiting account with an explanation of what happened, it is also logically consistent.
According to Tabari, based on traditions collected by Sayf ibn Umar, Ibn Saba' was a Yemenite Jew who embraced Islam. During the time of Ali ibn Abi Taleb, he introduced a number of concepts that later were ascribed to more extreme factions of Shia Islam, or ghulat. According to these traditions, the exaltation of Ali, his divine appointment by the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a successor, the concept of ghayba and return (rajʿa) were first formulated and expressed by Ibn Sabaʾ and his followers (the Sabaʾiyya). He and his followers are sometimes said to be the ones who enticed the Egyptians against Uthman on the ground of Ali's special right of succession, and participated in further instigation at later conflicts. Historically, Sunni theologians have not only upheld Ibn Saba's existence, but used evidence from the historical works of the Shi'a in order to support their claims.
In Sunni polemics, ibn Saba' plays the same role of seeking to destroy the message of Islam from within (by introducing proto-Shi'ite beliefs) as Paul would play in seeking to deliberately corrupt the early teachings of Jesus.
In traditional Shi'a sources, Abdullah Ibn Saba' is sometimes viewed as an extremist Shia (ghulat), himself cursed by Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq. Nevertheless, Ibn Sabaʾ became the subject of a tradition used by different Shia factions to both attack and defend extreme Shia groups. According to this tradition, and depending on the different interpretations, Ali either burned or exiled him and his followers for declaring Ali as God.
Earliest Shia scholars (mutaqaddimun) also described Abdullah ibn Saba' as a real person. Shī‘a scholars such as Abu Muhammad al-Hasan bin Musa al-Nubakhti, Abu Amr bin Abdul Aziz al-Kash-shi, Al-Hasan bin Ali al-Hilly, al-Astra Abadi,Al-Sadooq, and Al-Nawbakhty. gave the stories and narrations of Ibn Saba. Another Shiite scholar named Al-Maamiqaaniy was found out also confessing the existence of Abdullah ibn Saba'
The name of Abdullah bin Saba figures in the most reliable book of Shia on Isma ur-Rijal, entitled Rijal-i-Kashshi and it is related in it from Imam Jafar Al-Sadiq that Ibn Saba believed in the divinity of Ali, and, ultimately, he was burnt alive at his command. About Abdullah bin Saba, Rijal-e-Kashshi says:
“Many knowledgeable people have stated that Abdullah bin Saba was a Jew who had accepted Islam and showed great devotion for Hadhrat Ali (may Allah be pleased with him). As a Jew, he used to exaggerate the personality of Joshua, the son of Nun, and the Wasi of Moses. After becoming a Muslim he began to exalt the personality of Hadhrat Ali much beyond the due limit, and he was the first person to declare that it was obligatory to believe in the Imamate of Hadhrat Ali, and completely dissociated himself from his enemies and he openly opposed them and denounced them as infidels”.
Al-Maamqaani from his work Tanqih al-Maqaal Fi Ilm al-Rijaal (2/183-184):
عبد الله بن سبأ الذي رجع إلى الكفر وأظهر الغلو ... غال ملعون، حرقه أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام بالنار، وكان يزعم أن علياً إله، وأنه نبي
Abdullah bin Saba' who returned to kufr (disbelief) and manifested ghuluww (exaggeration)... Exaggerator, cursed one, Amir al-Mu'mineen burned him with the fire, and he would worship Aliand that he (Abdullah bin Saba') is a prophet.
From Sa'd bin Abdullah al-Ash'ari al-Qummi who was speaking of the Sab'iyyah (in al-Maqaalaat wal-Firaq p. 20):
السبئية أصحاب عبد الله بن سبأ، وهو عبد الله بن وهب الراسبي الهمداني، وساعده على ذلك عبد الله بن خرسي وابن اسود وهما من أجل أصحابه، وكان أول من أظهر الطعن على أبي بكر وعمر وعثمان والصحابة وتبرأ منهم
Al-Sab'iyyah are the associates of Abdullah bin Saba' and he is Abdullah bin Wahb al-Raasibee al-Hamdaanee, and he was supported in that by Abullah bin Khurasee and Ibn Aswad and they are the loftiest of his companions, and the first of what he manifested was revilement upon Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthmaan and the Companions and he freed himself from them.
From Ibn Abi al-Hadeed, another famous Shi'a scholar from his work Sharh Nahj al-Balaaghah (5/5):
أن عبد الله بن سبأ قام إلى علي وهو يخطب فقال له: أنت أنت، وجعل يكررها، فقال له - علي - ويلك من أنا، فقال: أنت الله، فأمر بأخذه وأخذ قوم كانوا معه على رأيه
Abdullah bin Saba' stood addressing Ali saying, "You, You" and he began repeating it, so Ali said to him, "Woe be to you, and who am I?" He said, "You are Allaah." So he ordered that he be captured and a group of people with him upon his view."
Ni'matullah al-Jazaa'iree, another of Shi'ite famous scholars from his book al-Anwaar al-Nu'maaniyyah (2/234):
قال عبد الله بن سبأ لعلي عليه السلام: أنت الإله حقاً، فنفاه علي عليه السلام إلى المدائن، وقيل أنه كان يهودياً فأسلم، وكان في اليهودية يقول في يوشع بن نون وفي موسى مثل ما قال في علي
Abdullah bin Saba' said to Ali (alayhis salaam), "You are worshipped in truth." So Ali (alayhis salaam) banished him to al-Madaa'in, and it is said that he was a Jew who accepted Islam and whilst upon his Judaism he used to say about Joshua bin Noon and about Moses the likes of what he said about Ali.
Famous Shia scholar Nau Bakhti writes,
“It is known as the Sabai sect because Abdullah bin Saba was its ring leader. “
[Khandan-i-Nau-Bakhti, page 275]
Muhammad Ali al-Mual'lim, a present-day Shi'ite also affirmed the existence of Abdullah bin Saba' in his book "Abdullah bin Saba: The Unknown reality" This book was a refutation of those who denied the existence of Abdullah bin Saba' giving the excuse of "false narrations".
Modern Shia historians often cite a number of Sunni scholars who considered Sayf ibn Umar as unreliable on matters of Prophetic Hadith. For example, al-Dhahabi (d. 748 AH) has quoted from the book of Sayf in his History, but wrote in "al-Mughni fi al-Dhu'afa'" that:"Sayf has two books which have been unanimously abandoned by the scholars." They point out to a number of prominent Sunni scholars concur regarding his narration of Hadith. including al-Hakim, Abu Dawud, al-Suyuti and al-Nisa'i. However, some modern historians have pointed out that this view of Sayf should be limited to his Hadith scholarship, and thus it does not detract from his general reliablitiy as a transmitter of historical information.
Other sources on Ibn Saba'
Tabari narration on Ibn Saba' goes back to Sayf ibn Umar. There are two other historians that mentioned Ibn Saba' accounts which is said to have independent sources. However, it can be shown that their chains of isnad go back to Sayf Ibn Umar.
- Hodgson, M. G. S. (1960). "ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sabaʾ". Encyclopaedia of Islam 1 (2nd ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. p. 51. ISBN 90-04-08114-3.
- Abd Allah b. Saba, M.G.S. Hodgson, The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. I, ed. H. A. R. Gibb, J. H. Kramers, E. Levi-Provencal, J. Schacht, (Brill, 1986), 51.
- Tucker, William Frederick (2008). Mahdis and millenarians: Shī'ite extremists in early Muslim Iraq. Cambridge University Press. pp. 10–12. ISBN 978-0-521-88384-9.
- Moosa, Matti (1987). Extremist Shiites: the ghulat sects. Syracuse, New York, USA: Syracuse University Press. p. 580. ISBN 978-0-8156-2411-0.
- Al-Samarrai, Qasim (2000-09-19), "Sayf ibn ʿUmar and ibn Sabaʾ: A new approach", in Tudor Parfitt, Israel and Ishmael: studies in Muslim-Jewish relations, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 52–58, ISBN 978-0-312-22228-4
- Anthony, Sean (2011-11-25). The Caliph and the Heretic: Ibn Saba' and the Origins of Shi'ism. BRILL. p. 71. ISBN 9789004209305.
Equally impressive, perhaps, is the sobriety with which Imami sources confirm the heresiarch's Jewish identity, as well as how salient this datum persists through the heresiographical literature, and this despite Sunni polemics against Shi'ism as being polluted by Judaic beliefs. Indeed, of all the components of Ibn al-Sawda's identity proffered by Sayf, that he was a Jew enjoys the broadest attestation elsewhere by far.
- Robert L. Canfield, Turko-Persia in Historical Perspective, Cambridge University Press, 2002, Page 159, ISBN 978-0-521-52291-5
- Bernard Lewis; Peter Malcolm Holt (1962). Historians of the Middle East Volume 4 of Historical writing on the peoples of Asia, University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. Oxford University Press.
- Landau-Tasseron, Ella (January 1990). "Sayf Ibn ’Umar in Medieval and Modern Scholarship". Der Islam 67: 1–26. doi:10.1515/islm.19184.108.40.206. ISSN 1613-0928.
But Linda D. Lau and A. R. Armush, in what seem to be independent studies, reached the conclusion that Sayf's explanation is not only the sole existing one, but is also governed by inner logic so that there is no reason to reject it.
- Lewis, Bernard (2002). Jews of Islam. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 103. ISBN 978-1-4008-1023-9.
- Jewish Encyclopedia; Abdallah ibn Saba. retrieved April 19, 2014
- Hodgson, M. G. S. (1965). "GHULĀT". Encyclopaedia of Islam 2 (2nd ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. pp. 1093–1095.
- Heinz Halm, Shi'ism 2nd Edition p 155, (1987) 2004 Columbia University Press ISBN 978-0-231-13587-0
- Halm, Heinz (December 15, 2001). "ḠOLĀT". In Ehsan Yarshater. Encyclopedia Iranica (Online ed.). Retrieved October 20, 2011.
- The Succession to Muhammad p. 2
- al-Fitnat al-Kubra, Vol. II, p.90
- Bibliography: Shatrastani al-Milal, pp. 132 et seq. (in Haarbrücken's translation, i. 200-201); Weil, Gesch. der Chalifen, i. 173-174, 209, 259.
- Zubair Ali Zai, Who was Abdullah Ibn Saba? Birmingham: Maktabah Imaam Badee ud Deen, 2011.
- Ross Brann (21 Dec 2009). Power in the Portrayal: Representations of Jews and Muslims in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Islamic Spain. Princeton University Press. pp. 65–6. ISBN 9781400825240.
- Zoltan Pall (31 Jan 2013). Lebanese Salafis Between the Gulf and Europe: Development, Fractionalization and Transnational Networks of Salafism in Lebanon. Amsterdam University Press. p. 55. ISBN 9789089644510.
- Sean Anthony (25 Nov 2011). The Caliph and the Heretic: Ibn Saba and the Origins of Shi'ism (illustrated ed.). BRILL. p. 68. ISBN 9789004209305.
- [http://abul-jauzaa.blogspot.com/2010/04/abdullah-bin-saba-tokoh-nyata-yang.html Asy-Syii’ah wat-Taariikh; Muhammad Husain Az-Zain ; page. 213]
- Book Firaq al-Shi'a: Nubakhti, pp.43,44
- Rijaal al-Kash-shi: Abu 'Amr bin Abdul Aziz al-Kash-shi, p.101 al-Mamaqaani, author of "Tanqeeh al-Maqaal", who is an authoritative Shi'i biogrophist quoted the like in his said book, p.184
- Kitaab al-Rijaal: al-Hilly, p.469, printed in Tehran, Iran 1383 h. From Ash-Shi'a wat-Tashayyu', p.56
- Manhaj al-Maqaal: al-Astar Abadi, p.203, from: Ash-Ashia wat-Tashayyu', p.56
- Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih1/229
-  page 19-20.
- Tanqiihul-Maqaal fii ‘Ilmir-Rijaal, 2/183-184
- al-Mughni fi al-Dhu'afa', by al-Dhahabi, p292
- Yahya Ibn Mueen (d. 233 AH) wrote: "Sayf's narrations are weak and useless."
- Abu Hatam (d. 277 AH) wrote: "Sayf's Hadith is rejected."
- Ibn Abi Hatam (d. 327 AH) wrote: "Scholars have abandoned Sayf's narrations."
- Ibn Habban (d. 354 AH) wrote: "Sayf attributed fabricated traditions to the good reporters. He was accused of being a heretic and a liar."
- Ibn Abd al-Barr (d. 462 AH) mentioned in his writing about al-Qa'qa: "Sayf reported that al-Qa'qa Said: I attended the death of the Prophet Muhammad."Ibn Adb al-Barr continued: "Ibn Abu Hatam said: Sayf is weak. Thus, what was conveyed of the presence of al-Qa'qa at the death of the Prophet is rejected. We mentioned the Sayf's traditions for knowledge only."
- al-Darqutini (d. 385 AH) wrote: "Sayf is weak".
- Firuzabadi (d. 817 AH) in "Towalif" mentioned Sayf and some others by saying: "They are weak."
- Ibn al-Sakan (d. 353 AH) wrote: "Sayf is weak."
- Safi al-Din (d. 923 AH) wrote: "Sayf is considered weak."
- Ibn Udei (d. 365 AH) wrote about Sayf: "He is weak. Some of his narrations are famous yet the majority of his narrations are disgraceful and not followed."
- Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (d. 852 AH) wrote after mentioning a tradition:"Many reporters of this tradition are weak, and the weakest among them is Sayf."
- al-Hakim (d. 405 AH) wrote: "Sayf is accused of being a heretic. His narrations are abandoned."
- Abu Dawud (d. 316 AH) wrote: "Sayf is nothing. He was a liar. Some of his Hadiths were conveyed and the majority of them are denied."
- al-Suyuti (d. 900 AH) wrote: "Sayf's Hadith is weak."
- al-Nisa'i (d. 303 AH) wrote: "Sayf's narrations are weak and they should be disregarded because he was unreliable and untrustworthy."
- Fischer, Michael M. J.; Mehdi Abedi (1990). Debating Muslims: cultural dialogues in postmodernity and tradition. Univ of Wisconsin Press. pp. 124–25. ISBN 978-0-299-12434-2.
- History of the Jews: From the Roman Empire to the Early Medieval ..., Volume 2 By Simon Dubnov page 330 where it talks about Abdala Ben Saba 
- Jewish Literature from the Eighth to the Eighteenth Century: With an ... By Moritz Steinschneider, William Spottiswoode page 59 
- history of the jews, Volume 2 By Ernst G. Maier Page 330
- There is also other non Muslim literature from near that time like The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus By Bar Hebraeus 
- Tucker, William Frederick (2008). Mahdis and millenarians: Shī'ite extremists in early Muslim Iraq. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-88384-9.
- Halm, Heinz (2004-07-21). Shi'ism. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-1888-0.
- Anthony, Sean (2011-11-25). The Caliph and the Heretic: Ibn Saba' and the Origins of Shi'ism. BRILL. ISBN 978-900420930-5.
- Sulaymān ibn Ḥamad ʻAwdah (1985). ʿAbdullāh bin Sabaʾ wa atharuhu fī aḥdāth al-fitna fī ṣadr al-islām. Dār Ṭayba.
- A paper about a favorable Isma'ili legend formed around the figure of Abdullah ibn Saba': Anthony, Sean W. (2011). "The Legend of ʿAbdallāh Ibn Sabaʾ and the Date of Umm Al-Kitāb". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. (Third Series) 21 (1): 1–30. doi:10.1017/S135618631000060X.
- Halm, Heinz (1982). Die islamische Gnosis: die extreme Schia und die ʻAlawiten. Artemis Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7608-4530-2.
- Moscati, S. (1955). Per una storia dell'antica Shi'a. RSO.
Further readings from traditional Shia sources:
- Tarikh Tabri, Volume 3, page 177.
- [Tarikh Damishq, 7:430]
- [Rijal-i-Kashi, page 71].
- [al-Maqaalaat wal-Firaq page 20].
- Tanqih al-Maqaal Fi Ilm al-Rijaal (2/183-184).
- Ibn Abi al-Hadeed, Sharh Nahj al-Balaaghah (5/5).
- Ni'matullah al-Jazaa'iree, al-Anwaar al-Nu'maaniyyah (2/234)
- Nau Bakhti, [Khandan-i-Nau-Bakhti, page 275].
- Muhammad Ali al-Mual'lim, "Abdullah bin Saba: The Unknown reality", page X.
- Bihar Al Anwar, By Allama Baqir Majlasi, 97/65.
- Fundamental Shi'te Beliefs, Pages 11–13.
- Al-Samarrai, Qasim (2000-09-19), "Sayf ibn ʿUmar and ibn Sabaʾ: A new approach", in Tudor Parfitt, Israel and Ishmael: studies in Muslim-Jewish relations, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 52–58, ISBN 978-0-312-22228-4
- Abdullah Ibn Saba's role in Early conspiracies against Muslim Caliphate. https://www.wireclub.com/clubs/lifestyle/the_islamic_world/conversations/SiqQjQMAAAAABqpG0