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 Jew and a figure in Islamic history who may have had an actual historical existence and often associated with a group of followers called the Sabaʾiyya.
Some modern historical views are not clear what person lay behind this figure. Some believe that Abdullah Ibn Saba may have been actually several figures(e.g. Hodgson), semi legendary (Caetani, Momen Moojan), or legendary and fictional (Taha Hussein, Ali al-Wardi, Bernard Lewis, Wilferd Madelung, Askari) but the Jewish rabbi and biblical scholar Israel Friedlander and Sabatino Moscati affirm his existence. His Jewish origin has been contested. With the exception of Taha Hussein, most modern Sunni writers affirm the existence of Ibn Saba' in latter sources. In a similar vein, Shia writers deny Ibn Saba's historical existence to rid Shi'aism of the accusation by Sunni writers that Shia'ism is originally based on Judaic doctrines. Regarding his importance in killing of Othman and introducing Shi'a is disputed as sources other than Tabari exclude him from any major role. Modern historians assert that Sayf fabricated the episode about killing of Uthman to "exonerate the people of Medina from participation in the caliph's murder".
According to M. G. S. Hodgson, it is not clear what historical person or persons lay behind this figure. According to Hodgson Abdullah Ibn Saba may have been actually several figures. He also 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." Modern Muslim writers tend to discredit Tabari's account of Ibn Saba as "sheer fiction". Taha Hussein and Ali al-Wardi maintain that Ibn Saba' was the creation of Umayyad propaganda. According to Bernard Lewis modern critical scholarship has successfully cast doubt on his historical existence. Ibn Saba is called a semi-legendary figure by Moojan and a legendary figure by MariaMassi Dakake.Israel Friedlander concludes that Ibn Saba' and the Sabi'iyya did, in fact, exist. The episode about his role in killing of Uthman has been fabricated, however. His work has also been attested to by Sabatino Moscati.
Ali Al-Wardi after affirming that Ibn Saba is fictional name, suggests that Ammar Yaser may actually be the historical figure lay behind Ibn Saba figure. He noted at similarities of Ammar Yaser life to Ibn Saba. Ammar was also from Yemen. He was called Ibn Sawda (son of a black woman). He was zealous supporter of Ali's right for caliphate. He went to Egypt to rouse Muslims against Uthman. He obstructed the peace effort between Ali and Aisha, ....
M. G. S. Hodgson concludes that he was probably 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 doubted 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 predicting 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.
Concerning Ibn Saba' religious beliefs, particularly that of the Sabaʾiyya, Tucker noted that they are more complete and better recorded in sources devoted to heresiography. But Hodgson states that there are contradictions in what religious views is ascribed to him and his followers.
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 ‘Alī's divinity, ‘Alī denied this angrily and exiled him back to Seleucia-Ctesiphon. Heinz Halm adds that Islamic 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. Tucker also states that even 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 pointed out that accusations of bias could equally be leveled at other akhbārīs contemporary to Sayf, including the Shi'a historian Abu Mikhnaf.Israel Friedlander, Julius Wellhausen, and Leone Caetani, note that 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.
W. F. Tucker notes that some scholars argued that Tabari's account of Ibn Saba conspiracies against Uthman is a fabrication of Sayf Ibn Umar. and should be generally considered unreliable. However, one scholar, Landau-Tasseron, notes that although Sayf may have been an unscrupulous hadith collector, this should not detract on his reliability as a transmitter of historical information (akhbārī).
Linda D. Lau, accepted Sayf's accounts and the role of the Saba'iyya at the Battle of the Camel. She points 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 Shia' views, the claim that Ibn Saba' as a convert Jew is the founder of Shia is propaganda. Although the existence of Abdullah Ibn Saba' is seriously under question, even if such a person existed, the stories propagated about this person are legendary, false, fabricated, and fictitious. In traditional Shi'a sources, he 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.
In Shia' views, the claim that Ibn Saba' as a convert Jew is the founder of Shia has split the Muslims. Although the existence of a person in the name of Abdullah Ibn Saba' in the early history of Islam is seriously under question, even if such a person existed, the stories propagated about this person are legendary, false, fabricated, and fictitious. It is true that in Shia' traditions Ali ordered Abdullah Ibn Saba' and his followers burned because they assumed Ali God. But Shī‘a views believe that fabricated stories around the character of Abdullah Ibn Saba' are the malicious production of Sayf Ibn Umar al-Tamimi. He was a story teller who shaped his fictional stories based on primary facts he found in the documented history of Islam available at that time.
For the Shi'a he sometimes figured as type of the extremist, the ghali. It is said that Jafar Sadiq, the sixth Shia' Imam and the founder of Shi'a Islamic fiqh, cursed him. 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.
Sayf ibn Umar and other sources on Ibn Saba
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The Shi'a believe that the fabricated stories around the character of Abdullah Ibn Saba' are the malicious production of Sayf Ibn Umar al-Tamimi.
Multiple Sunni scholars state that Sayf Ibn Umar, who wrote extensively about ibn Saba, was untrustworthy, thus rejecting his accounts of ibn Saba. For example, al-Dhahabi (d. 748 AH) has quoted from the book of Sayf in his History. In "al-Mughni fi al-Dhu'afa'" al-Dhahabi wrote:"Sayf has two books which have been unanimously abandoned by the scholars."
Tabari narration on Ibn Saba' goes back to Sayf Ibn Umar. There are two other historians mentioned Ibn Saba' accounts which is said to have independente sources. However, it can be shown that their chains of isnad go back to Sayf Ibn Umar.
The Shī‘a believe that both works are fabricated. Prominent early Sunni scholars, have generally thought the same including al-Hakim, Abu Dawud, al-Suyuti and al-Nisa'i The Shī‘a point out that although al-Dhahabi mentions Sayf ibn Umar as a weak narrator, stating "Sayf has two books which have been unanimously abandoned by the scholars", he also accepts the story of Abdullah ibn Saba' relayed from Sayf ibn Umar in his book. However, these are not the only scholars of Baghdad citing that Sayf's sources are not reliable.
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- 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 abut 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."
- Anthony, Sean (2011-11-25). The Caliph and the Heretic: Ibn Saba' and the Origins of Shi'ism. BRILL. ISBN 978-900420930-5.
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- 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 (01): 1–30. doi:10.1017/S135618631000060X.
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