Abdullah ibn Saba

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Abdullah son of Sheba (ca. 600 CE), also known as Ibn Sawda (after his mother) was probably one of the Ansar Sabaeans and a leader of the Sebo'un after Muhammad (PBUH) who were opposed to the reformation of Petrine Sabi'ism by the Caliphate into Imperial Islam. His stance was later used as the foundation for the later sect of the Shiites, although this is disputed.


Abdullah ibn Saba was originally from the city of Sana`a in Yemen. He was Jewish Rabbi (his mother was a black Ethiopian Jewess) who claimed a conversion to Islam during the caliphate of `Uthman. He moved to Kufa and started adversely criticizing the Calif's administration. Thence he went to Egypt, where he founded an antiothmanian sect, to promote the interests of Ali. On account of his learning he obtained great influence there, and formulated the doctrine that, just as every prophet had an assistant who afterward succeeded him, Muhammad's vizier was Ali, who had therefore been kept out of the califate by deceit. He was able to promote a dissatisfaction with Uthman's government among his followers.

Tradition relates that when Ali ibn Abi Talib had assumed power, Ibn Saba became an adherent of the emerging Shi'ite persuasion, and a strong supporter of Ali. He called for the divinity of `Ali. He initially did not openly preach these beliefs, but he later abandoned his secret and started a vigorous campaign.[1] However, when Ibn Saba claimed that Ali is himself God by addressing him with the words, "Thou art Thou!", Ali declared him a heretic and burned some of his followers to the stake and expelled him to Madain (a city with Persian population).

After Ali's assassination Abdullah Ibn Saba is said to have taught that Ali was not dead but alive, and had never been killed; that a part of the Deity was hidden in him; and that after a certain time he would return to fill the earth with justice. Till then the divine character of Ali was to remain hidden in the Imams, who temporarily filled his place. It is easy to see that the whole idea rests on that of the Messiah in combination with the legend of Elijah the prophet[2].


Accourding to Sunni historical references, Abdullah Ibn Saba enticed the Muslims to kill Uthman [3]. He also made mischief in the armies of Ali and his opponents in the battle of Camel, forcing the battle to start, althogh both parties did not want it.

He is considered by Sunni writers as the originator of Shi'ism itself[4], although on account of his extremism this is considered by Shi`ites as an insult.[5] The Apostle Paul and ‘Abdallah ibn Saba' were in classical times said to have been "Jewish agents" who infiltrated Christianity and Islam to destroy them from within.[6]

Hafiz Ibn Hajar threw more light on the dialogue between `Ali and ibn Saba on this occasion: "Abul Ijlas says that I heard `Ali telling `Abdullah ibn Saba: "By Allah, I have not hidden any secret from anyone which the Holy Prophet told me. I heard the Holy Prophet saying that there would appear thirty liars before the last day, and you are one of them." Once Suwaid ibn Ghafalah visited `Ali during his reign and told him that he had passed a few people amongst whom was ibn Saba speaking ill of Abu Bakr. They claimed that you also held the same opinion." `Ali retorted: "I have nothing to do with this black filthy creature. I seek refuge from Allah that I hold any opinion other than the best for Abu Bakr and `Umar." He then exiled ibn Saba saying that he could not tolerate to live with him in one city. `Ali then ascended the pulpit, and after relating the story said: "I will lash anyone who prefers me over Abu Bakr and `Umar, the lashing of a slanderer." [7].


In recent years some scholars have questioned the existence of Abdullah Ibn Saba.[8] Taha Husayn, an Egyptian scholar believed that Ibn Saba was a fictitious character invented by groups opposed to Shi'ism.[9] Ali al-Wardi, professor of history at Baghdad University wrote that "it is claimed that Ibn Saba' incited unrest, but no such person ever existed."[10] Most modern twelver Shia deny the existence of Ibn Saba. The first book of Murtadha Askari in this field, titled "Abdullah Ibn Saba’" which was published in 1954. He theorized that Sayf Ibn Omar al-Tamimi made up Abdullah ibn Saba.[11]


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  1. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 25, p. 286
  2. Bibliography: Shatrastani al-Milal, pp. 132 et seq. (in Haarbrücken's translation, i. 200-201); Weil, Gesch. der Chalifen, i. 173-174, 209, 259.
  3. http://www.anwary-islam.com/companion/usman_bin_affan.htm
  4. http://islamicweb.com/beliefs/cults/shia_answering.htm
  5. Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi`i Islam, Yale University Press, 1985;p. 46
  6. http://www.geocities.com/~abdulwahid/ahlibayt/history_of_shiism.html
  7. Lisan al-Mizan, vol. 3, p. 290
  8. Current Trends in Islamist Ideology page 58.]
  9. in his book al-Fitnat al-Kubra, Vol. II, p.90
  10. cited in Haykal, Hayat Muhammad, p. 136
  11. [1]