Abdullah Ibn Saba – The Father of Rafidism: Doubts over his existence and his influence put to rest.

Abdullah Ibn Saba – The Father of Rafidism: Doubts over his existence and his influence put to rest.



In The Name of Allah, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful.

The controversy that is the life, the existence, and the effects of Abdullah bin Saba’ upon the early years of Islam has become a focal point in polemical circles during the last few generations. Originally, the existence of the man was a point of consensus amongst historians; however, it was in the 18th century when Orientalists noticed a peculiar pattern regarding his reports which caused a break in the consensus. These narrations came from a single source, namely, Sayf bin Omar Al-Tameemi, a historian that is regarded as weak in the eyes of the scholars of Hadith. This discovery led to the publishing of articles and then books on the subject, which ultimately led Shias, like Murtadha Al-`Askari to adopt the view that Ibn Saba’ was a figment of Sayf bin Omar Al-Tameemi’s imagination.

Not too long after this view spread within Shia circles did we find Sunni scholars like Sulaiman Al-`Awdah responding by simply providing alternative sources, in both Sunni and Shias books, which prove the existence of Ibn Saba’. The irrefutable proofs provided by these Sunnis caused the spawning of a new book on the matter. This new study “Abdullah ibn Saba’: Dirasah wa Tahleel” by the Shia scholar Ali Aal-Muhsin spread amongst the Shi`ee youth. His arguments were then translated into English in a book called “Abd Allah ibn Saba: Myth Exploded,” by Shi’ee apologist Toyib Olawuyi, the book of Ali Aal-Muhsin provides a new outlook on how the narrations about Abdullah bin Saba’ should be consumed.

As for Shia author Olawuyi, he not only argues that Sunnis have no place accepting the ideologies attributed to Ibn Saba’, but suggests that his very existence is questionable, due to the weakness of the chains.

In most cases Olawuyi is correct, which is why it would be a waste of time to respond to most of the narrations that he successfully criticizes. Yet, his refutation falls short due to incorrect implementation of Hadith sciences, a lack of understanding of the historical method, and at times, simple incompetence.

Unlike the vast majority of the works that deal with the historicity of Abdullah bin Saba’, we find that “Abd Allah Ibn Saba: Myth Exploded,” is not an introductory book in the matter. The author assumes that the reader has some background in the subject, as one can tell from the content of the book from the early chapters.

The author jumps into arguing that Sunnis make twelve claims regarding Ibn Saba’. He lists them as follows:

  1. He was a descendant of Saba’, and belonged to one of the Saba’ee tribes.
  2. He was a black Arab with a black slave mother.
  3. He was a Jew from Sanain Yemen.
  4. He accepted Islam during the khilafah of Uthman b. Affan.
  5. He stirred up the public, especially the Egyptians, against Uthman and caused the latter’s bloody overthrow.
  6. He was the first to claim that Ali, alaihi al-salam, was the designated successor of the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alaihi wa Alihi.
  7. He was the first to proclaim belief in Al-Raja`ah – that is, the return to this world after death by certain dead people.
  8. He was the first to publicly criticize or revile Abu Bakr and `Umar.
  9. He was popularly called Ibn Al-Sawda’ – son of the black mother.
  10. Imam Ali was frustrated with him, and abused him by calling him “the black container” and also banished him to Al-Madain.
  11. Amir Al-Muminin `Ali b. Abi Talib saw it as legitimate to execute him for reviling Abu Bakr and `Umar, and would have done so had people not talked him out of the decision.
  12. `Ali burnt him (i.e. Ibn Saba’) and his followers Alive for calling him (i.e. `Ali) Allah. (Refer Abd Allah Ibn Saba. p. VI)

The Shia author is more or less correct, that Ahl Al-Sunnah do usually make statements like these. The author goes on to claim that all the statements above lack proper proof since the information above can only be found in narrations with weak chains. (Refer Abd Allah Ibn Saba .p. VI)

Before carrying on, it is important to explain why Ahl Al-Sunna make such claims in the first place. The author did not delve into that matter since, as explained previously, his book is not an introductory piece of text for this very subject. The Sunni objective is to simply taunt the Shias by suggesting that their beliefs have evolved from the false ideologies that were incorrectly attributed to Ahl Al-Bayt.

To make this clearer, we quote two of the earliest and most reliable Shia historians – Al-Hasan bin Musa Al-Nawbakhti and Sa’ad bin `Abdullah Al-Qummi. Together, they describe the formation of the Saba’ee sect (the followers of Ibn Saba’) :

“A group of scholars from the companions of Ali (alaihi alsalam) said that Abdullah bin Saba was a Jew, who converted to Islam, and befriended Ali (alaihi alsalam), and he used to say, as a Jew that Yusha’ bin Noon is after Musa (alaihi alsalam) with this view, and so he said in Islam after the death of the Prophet (salallahu alaihi wa aalih) about Ali the same (belief). He was the first to say that it is mandatory that Ali (alaihi alsalam) was the Imam, and the first to disassociate from his enemies, and he made takfeer of them. It is in this light that those there were against the Shias said: The origins of Rafdh are taken from Judaism.” (Firaq Al-Shia .p. 32)

In other words, Sunnis do not feel obligated to establish every one of those twelve claims. It is sufficient for Ahl Al-Sunnah to simply establish the existence of the man, who wasn’t from Ahl Al-Bayt, that had views that evolved into modern day Shiasm. Whether or not his mother was black or from Yemeni origins is irrelevant.

To some extent, the Sunnis have already achieved their goals, and we find this clearly in Shia author’s introduction, for he accepts the authenticity of a few narrations that condemn Abdullah bin Saba’ which can be found in Shia books. These narrations clearly state that Ibn Saba’ saw Ali as a deity and that Ali burned him alive for it. Olawuyi refers to these narrations as authentic. (Abd Allah Ibn Saba. p. IV)

But soon the Shia author criticizes Ibn Taymiyah for holding the same view.(Abd Allah Ibn Saba. p. XI)

In other words, Shia author finds it acceptable for Shias to hold the view that Ibn Saba’ referred to Ali as a god, while believing that there is not enough binding evidence upon Sunnis to hold the same view about Ibn Saba’, and that he should be nothing more than a myth in the eyes of Sunnis.

Therefore, according to Shia author, it is incorrect for a Sunni to claim that “the origins of Rafdh are taken from Judaism.” Yet, even if Sunnis were to stand down from such a claim, it would still be correct for them to claim that “the origins of Rafdh according to authentic Shia reports, which are binding upon Shias themselves, are taken from Judaism.”

Even though the last claim is true, it would be more satisfying to the reader to get the full picture, since the claim that Ibn Saba’s views evolved into the Twelver faith is not exclusive to authentic Shia reports, but is also the correct position in the eyes of Ahl Al-Sunnah. However, before even studying the reports, it is important to understand the Saba’ee sect and establish its existence.


The Existence of the Saba’ee Sect

The existence of the Saba’ee sect(the followers of Ibn Saba’) is something that cannot be argued with, for there is a decent amount of narrations from the tabi’een and the atba’a that establish direct contact with this sect.

Al-Am`ash (d. 147) used to say, “Beware of these Saba’iyyah, for I lived at a time wherein which the people used to call them: the liars.” (Al-Kamil 7/275)

Al-Sha`bee (d. 100) said that “I have not met anyone dumber than the Saba’ees.”( Al-Kamil 7/275)

Qatadah (d. 117), said in explanation of Allah’s (subhanahu wa ta’ala) condemnation for the misguided people of desires in Surah Aal-Imran: 7, “If the ones mentioned here are not the Haruriyyah and the Sabaa’iyyah then I do not know who they are.” Then he says, “By Allah, (the beliefs of) the Sabaa’iyyah are innovations, which have not been revealed in a Book (of Allah) nor are they from the sunnah of a prophet.”( Al-Ibanah 1/269)

Abdullah bin Awn said: I asked Ibraheem al-Nakh`ee (d. 96) about two men from the Sabaa’iyyah which he knew, Al-Mugheerah bin Sa`eed and Aba Abd Al-Raheem,” He replied, “Be aware of them for they are liars.”( Al-Ilal wa Ma’rifat Al-Rijal (p. 144))

Al-Zuhri (d. 125) said, “I did not see a group of people that are more similar to the Christians than the Sabaa’iyyah.”( Al-Sharee’ah (p. 723) ). He also said about Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Ali that “he used to collect the hadiths of the Sabaa’iyyah.”( Al-Ma’rifah wal Tareekh 3/70).

Note: Some Shias try to counter these statements by making a desperate claim that, Sabāīs and Sabaaiyyah could well have been about members of the tribe of Sabā! However these are far-fetched claims, Readers that review these statement can see that this is a desperate point, because it is apparent from the statements that, a sect named Sabaa’iyyah was being addressed not a tribe.

Infact, the existence of the Saba’ee sect is accepted by late Shia scholars like Mohammad Zaid Al-Deen Al-Amili in his book Al-Shia fil Tareekh. See pages 38-39 (second edition):

However it may be, Ibn Saba definitely existed and manifested ghuluww (extremism), even though some people doubt his existence and made him out to be an imaginary character created by personal interests. As for us, on grounds of the latest research we have no doubt concerning his existence and his extremism… Yes, Ibn Saba exhibited extremism in his religion. This innovation of his seeped into the thinking of a group that was by no means small, and that group was named after him.

Also we read: People followed him and they were called Saba’iyyah. ( Al-Shi‘ah fil-Tareekh, pages 38-39)

Also , Shia scholar Syed Husain Mohammad Jafri in his book states: Whether ‘Abd Allah bin Saba, to whom the history of the ghulat is traced, was a real personality or not, the name as-Saba’iyya is often used to describe the ghulat in Kufa who believed in the supernatural character of Ali. (The Origins and Early Development of Shi‘a Islam, p. 300, Ansariyan Publications, Qum). Therefore, there remains no doubt that, Sabaa’iyyah here is not a tribe, but people who were Ghulat.

Interestingly, one does not find the tabi’een or the atba’a refer to specific rafidhi sects as much as the Saba’ees, nor do we find much of a focus in the following centuries on any specific sects except the larger blankets of these smaller sects, like the Zaidis and the rafidha, each of which include many smaller divisions. This implies that the Sabaa’iyyah were at one time a rather infamous sect, unlike other smaller offshoots that didn’t get much attention. This sect, without a doubt includes a set of beliefs which separates it from other sects. It is there where the works of the scholars of milal becomes most useful.

One example is the lengthy explanation of how this sect snowballed into a group of sects that differed in specifics. Abu Al-Hussain Al-Malti (d. 377 AH) stated that the Saba’ees split into four groups:

The first says that Ali did not die and cannot die.

The second says that Ali is not dead but is in the clouds. {This view is shared by Ibn Hibban in Al-Majrooheen 2/262. He attributes this view to Mohammad bin Al-Sa’ib Al-Kalbi.}

The third says that he died and will come back before the Day of Judgment and that others from the graves will come with him to fight the anti-Christ and that he will fill the earth with justice.{This, the third view, corresponds with the views of the modern Shi’ee.}

The fourth group says that the Imam is Muhammad bin Ali and that he is in the mountain of Radhwa and is guarded by a dragon and a lion, and that he will fight the anti-Christ.

Al-Malti furthermore speaks about them in a fashion that indicates their existence during his time, not only is he thorough in the explanation of their beliefs, but in his tone of speech as well. (Al-Tanbeeh .p. 14)

We find in Al-Farq bayna Al-Firaq (p. 214) of Abd Al-Qadir Al-Baghdaadi (d. 429 AH) an even clearer tone in which he lists questions to debate the Sabaa’iyyah with. This leaves little doubt that forms of the Saba’ee sect remained until at least the fourth century.

Of course, closed-minded Shi’ee scholars like Murtadha Al-Askari would never find this sufficient to prove that the sect existed. When faced with a plethora of statements about the beliefs of the Sabaa’iyyah from the scholars of milal, Murtadha Al-Askari responded by saying, “It seems as though they wrote explanations about these sects that detailed their ideologies, and each author wanted to surpass the rest with strange tales that they would explain, and they have committed a felony against Islam that cannot be forgiven for their attributed to the Muslims what wasn’t (true).”(Abdullah bin Saba’ wa Asateer Ukhra 2/243)

This assertion is ridiculous since Murtadha Al-Askari himself has stated in Abdullah bin Saba’ wa Asateer Ukhra 2/176 that these opinions were recorded by Shia scholars themselves like Al-Kashshi, Al-Nawbakhti (d. 310 AH), and Sa’ad bin Abdullah Al-Qummi (d. 301 AH), and to accuse these men of lying is a position that he would never hold.

Another proof that the Saba’ee sect existed was that we find early hadith scholars referring to certain narrators as Saba’ee. One such example is Ibn Hibban who referred to Jabir Al-Ju’fi (d. 127 AH) as one of Saba’ee.(Refer Al-Majrooheen 1/245 ).

If that weren’t enough, we have narrators who proclaimed that they were from the Saba’ee sect. Hammam bin Yahya (d. 164 AH) said he heard Mohammed bin Al-Sa’ib Al-Kalbi proclaim this.(Al-Majrooheen 2/262 )

Simply put, unless one is going to argue that the scholars above, who lived in different times and locations, formed some sort of conspiracy, which is completely illogical, then it is utterly ridiculous to deny the existence of this sect during the first centuries of Islam.

Shia author Olawuyi in his revised edition of his book(p. iv) carries on:

“We have seen efforts by some Sunnī brothers to prove all the Sunnī claims about ‘Abd Allāh b. Sabā by mentioning the existence and doctrines of a group called al-Sabāiyyah. In their opinion, if they can prove that a sect which attributed itself to Ibn Sabā existed, then they have already proved the existence of the man himself. Moreover, if they are able to establish the doctrines of this sect, then they have established the original doctrines of the man. This is however a very poor methodology, which is based upon clear logical fallacies. The fact that a group of people attribute themselves to an individual or an entity does NOT necessarily prove that he/she/it existed. Qur’ān 7:71 and 53:19-23 give vivid examples. AlLāt, al-‘Uzzā and Manāt were three Arab idols which existed only in “names”. They had no real existence. A lot of the other idols are like that. However, it is possible to find people who attribute themselves to such imaginary idols, and who even spread weird legends about the idols’ “achievements” and “teachings”! Besides that, it is quite possible to find people who have attributed themselves to a real being, but who do NOT truly or accurately represent him at all. Examples of these kinds of adherents abound in our midst. For instance, there are Christians who attribute themselves to the Christ, Prophet ‘Īsā b. Maryam, ‘alaihimā al-salām. Would it be accurate to determine the existence and true doctrines of the Christ through the existence and doctrines of Christians? On a more specific note, is it correct to claim that the Christ believed in his own divinity, or that he was the Son of God, simply because Christians make these claims? Of course, that would be very wrong!
In the same manner, it is wrong to try to prove the existence and doctrines of ‘Abd Allāh b. Sabā through the claims and doctrines of al-Sabāīyyah, who attributed themselves to him. Rather, separate authentic reports must be provided to independently and directly establish the existence of the man himself and his personal doctrines, beliefs and teachings.“

By the grace of Allah, the above comments provided by the Shia author do not cause a dent on the evidences brought forth by us. In fact, what he wrote above makes no sense as the man did exist according to reliable Sunni and Shia reports, so the example of the non-existent “al-Laat and al-`Uzza” is not accurate, also his example of `Isa (as) also isn’t accurate since `Isa (as) was a pious prophet as is established and his followers attributed falsehood to him, Ibn Saba’ on the other hand is not only proven to exist but also it is established that he was an early deviant, exaggerator and liar.


The Beliefs of the Saba’ee Sect

The Saba’ee sect, like other sects, includes a set of beliefs. Shaykh Sulayman bin Hamad Al-`Awdah states that these include the godhood of Ali, the belief in an incomplete Qur’an, Raj`ah, Wasiyyah, the cursing of the Sahabah, and Badaa’.(Refer Abdullah bin Saba’.p. 207). His sources include Ibn Qutaibah, Abu Hasan Al-Ash`ari, Al-Asfara’eeni, Al-Baghdadi, Al-Malti, Al-Shihristani, Ibn Asakir, Ibn Hajar, Al-Kashshi, Al-Razi, and Al-Mamaqani. In most of the cases above, we find an agreement between these scholars for some of the primary beliefs, like Raj`ah and the cursing of the Sahabah.

It is extremely important for readers to be aware that we are not suggesting that Ibn Saba’ created tashayyu`, but rather, that some of his ideas evolved into modern Shia ideologies. For instance, we are not suggesting that Shias hold the view that Ali is a god, yet, we believe that the ghulu of Ibn Saba’ towards Ali evolved into modern Shia beliefs; like that Ali has the ability to give rizq, to answer pleas of help, and to control the atoms of the universe.

As illustrated in the previous chapter, the scholars of milal and ilm al-hadith, had direct contact with the Saba’ee sect. With this in mind, it is only rational to believe that this sect had its own ideology that separated itself from other sects. Of course, the Saba’ee sect had some similarities with the modern day Twelver Shiasm, and these include:

  • The disassociation from Abi Bakr and Umar – Not surprisingly, we find this clear in narrations that are authentically attributed to Ibn Saba’ himself. These will be covered in the following chapter. This opinion is also attributed to the Sabaa’iyyah by early Shia scholars like Al-Nawbakhti and Sa’ad bin Abdullah Al-Ash’ari.(Refer Firaq Al-Shia .p. 32). Al-Mugheera bin Sa’eed, was an infamous Saba’ee according to his contemporaries.(Refer Al-Ilal wa Ma’rifat Al-Rijal .p. 144), He was also known for openly cursing Abu Bakr and Omar(Refer Al-Dhua’afa Al-Kabeer 5/474). Today, we find a direct connection between this practice and Twelver Shias, so to believe that Ibn Saba’s attitudes towards the sahaba evolved into the modern Shi’ee attitude towards the sahaba would not be a stretch at all.
  • The belief in raja`ah – Ibn Hibban commented that Muhammad bin Sa’ib Al-Kalbi, was a Saba’ee, and that they held this belief. However, he suggested that the Saba’ees believed that Ali never died, but was living on a cloud.(Refer Al-Majrooheen 2/262 ). Rushaid Al-Hajri, was another Saba’ee.(Refer Masa’il Al-Imamah by Al-Nashi’ Al-Akbar via `Abdullah bin Saba’ by Sulayman Al-`Awdah .p. 221) , He also held the view that Ali came to life after death and was sweating under the blanket that covered his body(Refer Al-Dhua’afa 2/348). Ibn Hibban also states that Jabir Al-Ju`fi also held the belief that Ali would return to life and that he was from the companions of Ibn Saba’(Refer Al-Majrooheen 1/245-246). Also, Al-Fasawi narrates that Jabir believed that Ali was in a cloud.(Refer Al-Ma’rifah wal Tareekh 3/59). This opinion is also attributed to the Saba’iyyah by early Shia scholars like Al-Nawbakhti and Sa’ad bin Abdullah Al-Ash`ari.(Refer Firaq Al-Shia .p. 32). It is very important to be aware that these views from the early Saba’ees are different from the views held by Twelvers. The claim that Ali is alive and in the clouds, or that he is coming back, is specific to him alone, and is not attributed to his eleven descendants. Moreover, the view that the descendants of Ali would return in this life cannot be traced to contemporaries of Ja`far Al-Sadiq, which suggests that such a view did not exist at the time, but was the outcome of the Twelver’s natural evolution.
  • Ghulu towards Ahl Al-Bait – Ghulu towards Ahl Al-Bait – Ibn Hibban narrated from Mohammad bin Sa’ib Al-Kalbi that he said, “I became sick and forgot everything I memorized, so I went to the Aal(family) of Muhammad(salalahu alaihi wa salam), and they spit in my mouth, which made me remember all that which I had forgotten.”(Refer Al-Majrooheen 2/263 Tahtheeb Al-Tahtheeb 3/569). Ibn Hibban also narrated from him that he said, “Jibreel used to have the Prophet (salalahu alaihi wa salam) write the revelation, and when the Prophet (salalahu alaihi wa salam) would enter (to defecate),he (Jibreel) would make Ali write it down.”(Refer Al-Majrooheen 2/263 Al-Kamil 7/275 Tahtheeb Al-Tahtheeb 3/569). While this second narration may seem too extreme for any modern Shi’ee to adopt, we do find it being attributed to Al-Baqir, the fifth Shia Imam, through an authentic chain.( Basa’ir Al-Darajaat .p. 423). The Ghulu towards Ali in particular was also attributed to the Saba’iyyah by early Shia scholars like Al-Nawbakhti and Sa’ad bin Abdullah Al-Ash`ari.(Refer Firaq Al-Shia .p. 32). Twelvers too have some fanatical extraordinary beliefs about the Ahl Al-Bayt, like the provision of livelihood, the control of the atoms of the universe, and the deliverance of aid to the needy even after their deaths. Due to this, it is fair to say that the Saba’iyyah’s ghulu did influence the other Shia sects of the future.
  • Incomplete Qur’an – Al-`Adani narrated from Al-Hasan bin Muhammad bin Al-Hanafiyyah (d. 95) that the Saba’iyyah claimed that nine-tenths of the Qur’an was not revealed by the Prophet(salalahu alaihi wa salam).(Refer Al-Iman by Al-Adani via Usool Madhhab Al-Shia 1/260; Sharh Nahj Al-Balagha 2/490). Even though Twelvers never claimed that the Prophet(salalahu alaihi wa salam) withheld parts of the Qur’an, we find a connection between that belief and the belief of Twelvers that parts of the Qur’an are now missing. Refer to works like Mawqif Al-Rafidha min Al-Qur’an by Mamadu Caramberry, Usool Madhhab Al-Shia by Al-Qafari, and Man Yatahim Ulama’a Al-Shia Al-Ithnay Ashariyah bil Tahreef by Abd Al-Rahman Adam.


The Existence of Abdullah bin Saba’ through Authentic Chains

As mentioned in the previous chapter, authentic chains prove the existence of Abdullah bin Saba’. These narrations show that he used to curse Abu Bakr and Omar and these will be studied in this chapter. These narrations were originally weakened by Shia author Olawuyi, but upon further inspection, we have found that some of them are indeed authentic.

Examining the Narration of Abi Ishaaq Al-Fazari

The Shia author has done a fine job in criticizing some of the more obvious weak narrations; however, we find some faults in his judgment regarding some others. He quoted:

Abu Ishaq Al-Fazari narrated from Shu’bah from Salamah b. Kuhayl from Abu Al-Za’raa’ from(*) Zayd b. Wahb that Suwayd b. Ghaflah entered upon Ali during his rule, and said, “I passed by a group who were mentioning Abu Bakr and Umar, claiming that you hold the same views towards them both. Among them was Abd Allah b. Saba, and he was the first to manifest that. So, Ali said, “What does this evil black man(**) want from me?” Then he said, “I seek Allah’s refuge. My opinion of them both (i.e. Abu Bakr and Umar) is nothing but good and beautiful.” Then he sent a messenger to Abd Allah b. Saba and exiled him to al-Madain, and said, “He shall not live in the same town as me ever again.” Then he rushed to the pulpit and gathered the people, and delivered a long speech to praise them both (i.e. Abu Bakr and Umar). At its end, he said, “Verily, if it reaches me that anyone places me above them both, I will whip him with the whipping of a lying slanderer.”(Lisan al-Mizan of Hafiz ibn Hajar Asqalani, vol 3, page 290, #1225)

(*): This should correctly be “and from Zaid bin Wahb” since Abu Al-Za’raa’ does not narrate from Zaid bin Wahb this Hadith, but narrates it directly from `Ali as we shall see soon. Another evidence that it is “and from Zaid bin Wahb” is because that is how we find it in the same narration from Al-Barqani as Ibn Hajar recorded in Al-Tahtheeb 1/366.

(**): It is very possible that the words “evil black man” are actually “black container” since there is a similarity in the drawing of both words in the Arabic language. Furthermore, the narration of both Abu Al-Za’raa’ and Zaid bin Wahb which we shall examine later refer to Ibn Saba as the black container.

The Isnad(chain) is hasan(good) since the Hadith is connected and is narrated by trustworthy narrators. However, there is a slight weakness in Abu Al-Za’raa’, which makes one refrain from referring to the Hadith as saheeh. Shia author Olawuyi though, argues that Abu Al-Za’raa’ here is not Hujayyah bin Adi, but rather, Abdullah bin Hani’. He arrives at this conclusion upon finding that Ibn Hajar only refers to three people as Abu Al-Za’raa’{Refer Tahdheeb al-tahdheeb vol 12, page 90}, none of whom is Hujayyah bin Adi Al-Kindi. Yet, this is not sufficient evidence for one to claim that Hujayyah is not Abu Al-Za’raa’, for as Shia author has quoted, Al-Barqani stated that Hujayyah bin Adi is Abu Al-Za’raa’ in this chain(Tahdheeb al-tahdheeb vol 2, page 190, #399).

Al-Barqani, a fourth century scholar, did not make such a claim out of thin air, as suggested by Shia author Olawuyi, who commented that he “attempted to play a fast one.”

The accusation of Olawuyi towards Al-Barqani is not only immature, but irrational. Al-Barqani’s conclusion is based upon evidence as we have proven.

Furthermore, Al-Barqani is supported by Imam Muslim, who referred to Hujayyah as Abu Al-Za’raa’(Refer Al-Kuna 1/221).

Perhaps the strongest evidence that Abu Za’raa’ in this narration is Hujayyah is that we find the name Hujayyah in another source, that is Al-Tareekh Al-Kabeer 3/177. In this light, it makes absolute sense that Hujayyah is Abu Al-Za’raa’, for there is no reason to doubt both the narration and the opinions of these early scholars.

[Note: The Shia author Olawuyi, in his revised edition of his book, omitted these accusations against Al-Barqani. Praise be to Allah! It was our refutation which caused him to omit this point.]

As for Hujayyah himself, he was referred to as reliable by Al-Bushanji, Ibn Hibban, Al-Ijli, Ibn Khalfoon, and Ibn Al-Qattan.(Refer Ikmal Tatheeb Al-Kamal 4/10). Others, like Abu Hatim and Ibn Sa’ad, criticized him slightly, which is why it is preferable to refer to the chain as Hasan instead of Saheeh.(Refer Tahtheeb Al-Tahtheeb 1/366).

Further criticisms towards Shia author Olawuyi include that he was either incompetent or dishonest even when referring to Abu Al-Za’raa’ as Abdullah bin Hani’, since he has left out that he was considered as reliable by Ibn Sa’ad(Refer Al-Tabaqat 8/291). Shia author did mention Tahthib Al-Tahthib in his reference page, which is why it is surprising that he did not mention Ibn Sa’ad’s strengthening of this narrator.

Another criticism is that Shia author argues that one of the evidences that the Hadith is weak is because the scholars of Ahl Al-Sunnah confirmed that Abdullah bin Hani “never narrated from anyone other than Ibn Mas’ud and Omar. This is even strengthened by the fact that he has narrated from Zayd in an ‘an-‘an manner, without explicitly indicating tahdith. For someone in his situation, this brings down his report.”(Refer Abd Allah bin Saba .p. 21)

There is much that is wrong with the above statement of Shia author, for claims like “x has only narrated from y” is based upon the experience of the rijali scholar. It is an opinion that is simply based on ijtihad. If one stumbles upon another shaikh, it does not make the hadith weak, but rather, the above claim is changed into “x has only narrated from y and z.” Olawuyi claims that the narration being in ‘an-‘an form causes the narration to be rejected in these cases. However, we believe that this is simply the ijtihad of Olawuyi himself and that no Sunni scholar ever shared such a view.

Regardless, the chain is reliable since Abu Al-Za’raa’ is Hujayyah Al-Kinda, as mentioned previously.

[Note: The Shia author Olawuyi, in his revised edition of his book on p. 21,  also took back this new Hadith sciences rule that his own Ijtihad led him to invent. This no longer exists in his revised edition!]

Was Hujayyah Al-Kindi referred to as Abu Al-Za’araa’?

In order to weaken an authentic narration about Ibn Saba’, In his revised edition, Shia author Olawuyi attempted to cause readers to believe that Abu Al-Za’araa’ is a weak narrator named Abdullah bin Hani’, instead of the reliable Hujayyah Al-Kindi. He (p. 18) then pointed readers to the following sources: Tabaqat Ibn Sa’ad, Thiqat Al-Ijli, Al-Jarh wal Ta’deel by Ibn Abi Hatim, Thiqaat Ibn Hibban, Tahtheeb Al-Kamal by Al-Mizzi, and Mizan Al-I’itidal by Al-Thahabi, and Taqreeb Al-Tahtheeb by Ibn Hajar.

Shia author Olawuyi (p.20) then claimed that:

“…many top Sunni rijal scholars contradicted the suggestion that Hujayyah had the nickname “Abu Al-Za’ra’.”

We respond to this claim of Shia author that, this is false. None of the scholars above “contradict” this suggestion. A contradiction would be a direct dismissal of this nickname, or the affirmation of another nickname.

For example, a scholar would say, “Hujayyah is not Abu Al-Za’araa’,” or “Hujayyah is Abu Ahmad.” These could be considered contradictions. However, the sources that Olawuyi provides do not include a nickname for Hujayyah. They simply do not mention anything about his nickname. How can this be considered a contradiction?! Shi author just pulled a fast one.

Would referring to Mohammad bin Isma’eel Al-Bukhari instead of Abu Abdullah Mohammad bin Isma’eel Al-Bukhari be also considered a contradiction?! Perhaps  Shia author will soon argue that Sunni scholars do not know Al-Bukhari’s name since they are contradicting each other.

Incompetence or Deceptiveness of Shia author Olawuyi in Quoting Narrations:

Furthermore, in order for the Shia author to strengthen his case that Hujayyah is not Abu Al-Za’araa’, he quotes the narrations by these “two men” (who we maintain is one and the same person), then bolds and capitalizes the main differences in order to show that the narrations are different.

He quotes Ali via Hujayyah (p. 19) as saying: الحميت الأسود

“Who will excuse me of this evil black CONTAINER, who tells lies upon Allah?”

Then quotes Ali via Abu Al-Za’ara’a as saying: الخبيث الأسود

“What does this evil black MAN want from me?”

Aside from the fact that his translation is incorrect, the Shia author argues that the narrations are different and that they have nothing in common and no similarities. He says: “Where is the similarity? Do they even resemble in any way or by any means?”

However, we maintain that the Shia author was deceptive in his argumentation since he knows that the word حميت (container) is similar in writing to (evil) خبيث, which is why Olawuyi had to resort to quoting two different sources in order to make these narrations appear as different. The first source he quotes is from Tareekh Ibn Abi Khaythama, while the second source is Lisan Al-Mizan. Once this is understood, one can easily come to the conclusion that these are mistakes by editors, which Olawuyi either purposefully used to his advantage, or simply was careless as we have known him to be.

In Lisan Al-Mizan, we find that both the narration of Zaid bin Wahb and the narration of Abi Al-Za’araa’ and Zaid bin Wahb both include the term “evil black man.”

However, in Tareekh Ibn Abi Khaythama, both Zaid bin Wahb and the separate narration from Hujayyah refer to him as “black container”.

Moreover, in Tareekh Dimashq 16/309, we have four narrations, two from Zaid, one from Abu Al-Za’araa’, and another from Hujayyah (who is Abu Al-Za’araa’), and all four refer to Ibn Saba’ as “black container”.

Shia author Olawuyi’s criticism on the text of the report.

Shia author, aware of deficiencies of his chain criticism, moves on to criticize the text itself. He argues:

The report, for example, is quick to point out that the first ever human being to “mention” Abu Bakr and Umar negatively was Abd Allah b. Saba. This, however, is untrue! Amir Al-Muminin himself had earlier described both Abu Bakr and Umar with shocking words.(Refer Abd Allah bin Saba .p. 21)

Shia author quotes:

When the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, died, Abu Bakr said: “I am the Wali of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him.” … So both of you (`Ali and Abbas) thought him (i.e. Abu Bakr) to be a liar, sinful, a traitor and dishonest. And Allah knows that he was really truthful, pious, rightly-guided and a follower of the truth. Abu Bakr died and I became the Wali of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, and the Wali of Abu Bakr. So both of you thought me to be a liar, sinful, a traitor and dishonest.(Sahih Muslim #1757)

There would be no confusion in this matter had the Shia author included the context of the report. The report starts off with Al-Abbas referring to `Ali as a sinful, lying, treacherous, and dishonest person, due to their disagreement over their rights over Fadak(Refer Saheeh Muslim .p. 832). Omar, in his wisdom, used the very words that Al-Abbas used, to describe himself and Abu Bakr, in order to suggest that it is unfair to use such a description in cases of these types of disagreements, and that if Ali fits this description, then it fits him and Abu Bakr as well, since they have differed with Al-Abbas and Ali in how Fadak should be used. So Omar used these words in a rhetorical way, and Ali didn’t say any such word.

Shia author continues by arguing that the report contradicts reality since it includes the following by Ali:

“Verily, if it reaches me that anyone places me above them both, I will whip him with the whipping of a lying slanderer.”(`Abd Allah bin Saba (p. 22)

Shia author Olawuyi concludes that this proves that the report is a fabrication since Ali did not “reproach” companions that preferred him over Abi Bakr and Omar. Olawuyi quotes Ibn Abd Al-Bar who said, “Salman, Abu Dharr, Al-Miqdad, Khabab, Jabir, Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri and Zayd b. Arqam narrated that Ali b. Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, was the first to accept Islam, and they considered him the most superior (among the Sahabah).[Al-Istiab fi marifat al-Ashab, vol 3, page 1090] ” Olawuyi then quotes Ibn Hajar, who quoted Ibn Abd Al-Barr, who included Abu Al-Tufail as one of those that preferred Ali over Abi Bakr and Omar. [al-isabah fi tamyiz al sahabah vol7, pg 193].

We agree with the Shia author in his view that Ali did not reproach those companions, but we have a different understanding of why this is the case.

The threat by Ali itself can be either seen as a literal one or one that is not to be taken at face value. In the case of the latter, one can understand it as a threat by Ali in order to simply caution people by prohibiting them from preferring him over the Shaikhain. While in the case of the former, there lacks sufficient evidence that any of the above men preferred Ali over the Shaikhain. Shia author previously urged readers that:

Chainless and unsupported testimonies are not acceptable as proof, especially in crucial matters like this. So, we naturally confine ourselves only to reports in the books of the Ahl Al-Sunnah with chains of narrations.”(Refer`Abd Allah bin Saba .p. 1)

As we can see above, Shia author failed to provide chains for any of the claims regarding those companions that supposedly preferred Ali over Abi Bakr and Omar.

Shia author not only needs to provide chains, but also needs to provide evidence that these claims of preference by those companions reached Ali, and that they uttered these words during his life when he was a Caliph. As we see from the narration, Ali said, “If it reaches me….”

We also know for a fact that some of the examples that Shia author provided are very flawed since a number of these men, namely Salman (d. 33 AH), Al-Miqdad (d. 33 AH), and Abi Dharr (d. 32 AH), all died before Ali became a caliph and made this statement.

Two Narrations by Ibn Abi Khaithama

Ibn Abi Khaithama collects two narrations that furthermore prove the existence of `Abdullah bin Saba and his hatred towards Abu Bakr and Omar. He narrates:

– Amr bin Marzooq narrated to us, he said: Shu’ba told us, from Salama bin Kuhail from Zaid bin Wahb, he said: Ali said: What do I have to do with this black container? He meant: Abdullah bin Saba’ and he used to attack Abi Bakr and Umar. This is what Salama said, from Zaid bin Wahb.

– Muhammad bin Abbad Al-Makki said: Sufyan narrated to us, he said: Abd Al-Jabbar bin Abbas Al-Hamadani narrated to us, from Salama, from Hujayyah Al-Kindi, he said: I saw Ali on the pulpit saying: Who will excuse me from this black container that lies upon Allah! He meant: Ibn Al-Sawda’.( Al-Tareekh Al-Kabeer 3/177 ) ; {Online Source}

The narrations are both reliable. The reliability of Hujayyah has been previously discussed and the rest of the chain contains only hasan and strong narrators.

Shia author does reject the first narration though because it comes through the path of Amr bin Marzooq. He quoted criticisms like:

Ali b. Al-Madini, he used to say, “Reject his ahadith”! Al-Qawariri also said, “Yahya b. Sa’id was not pleased with Amr b. Marzuq”. Al-Saji said, “Abu Al-Walid used to criticize him”. Both Ibn Ammar and Al-Ijli said, “He is nothing”. And al-Daraqutni said, “He hallucinated A LOT”.( Hadi al sari Muqadimmah fath al bari pg. 431-432)

Shia author would have been fairer by quoting Ibn Hajar’s other work Tahtheeb Al-Tahtheeb which includes only the greatest praise and defense for Amr bin Marzooq. Abu Hatim declares, “We did not write from any of the companions of Shu’ba who was better in hadith than Amr bin Marzooq.” Ahmad said, “We searched for what was said about him and we found no basis in it.” Sulayman bin Harb said, “He had (hadiths) which they didn’t have, so they envied him.” (Tahtheeb Al-Tahtheeb 3/303).

The latter two quotes offer a defense for the case of Amr bin Marzooq. Nur Al-Deen Itr, a contemporary hadith scholar, explains that one of the reasons in which the criticism of a narrator is accepted is if “those that strengthen him don’t express why the criticism is inaccurate.”(Manhaj Al-Naqd fi Uloom Al-Hadith .p. 100). As one observes from the two quotes above, the criticism has been rejected, explained, and refuted. In light of this, Amr bin Marzooq is surely considered to be reliable. This opinion is shared by Amr Abd Al-Mun’im Saleem when weighing the opinions for and against Amr bin Marzooq.(Refer Tahreer Ahwal Al-Ruwat .p. 377). Perhaps the least that one can say is that Amr bin Marzooq is hasan in his Hadith.

Another objectionable issue with Shia author’s quote is his translation of the term “awhaam.” A wahm is a term that refers to any error in hadith, while translating it into the term “hallucination” greatly exaggerates Al-Daraqutni’s criticism.

Conclusion: Both narrations are established as evidences in the eyes of Ahl Al-Sunnah.

Shia author though, seeks to criticize the text in order to strengthen his argument. He argues:

First and foremost, it is mudraj (interpolated). We have already seen the version of the Athar transmitted by Muhammad b. Ja’far from Shu’bah from Salamah from Zayd. It does not contain the last phrase above, indentifying the “black container” explicitly as Abd Allah b. Saba, and explaining his lies upon Allah and His Messenger as his attacks on Abu Bakr and Umar! Therefore, neither Shu’bah nor any of the earlier transmitters in the chains was the source of that addition. Rather, it must have been either Amr bin Marzuq or any of the later sub-narrators. This means that the “explanation” was an interpolation into the riwayah of Zayd, by someone who was NOT an eye-witness to the event, by someone who was disconnected from the incident by at least one century! Even Shu’bah and Salamah – who are much earlier in the sanad – were not eye-witnesses either. As such, even their own “identifications” and “explanations” too would have been rejected.(Abd Allah bin Saba (p. 44).

The explanation of the “black container” as Ibn Saba is clearly an interpolation by a narrator, and this is clear from the text. However, Shia author is incorrect in assuming that the explanation of the text must be from a late narrator. From the quote that he provided, there are no reasons to assume that these words came from anyone other than Zaid bin Wahb. Zaid, the eye-witness of the event, is not explaining language or a matter of jurisprudence, but rather, he is explaining an ambiguous event. It is only logical to hold the view that he is explaining the context of Ali’s words to his student Salama.

However, Shia author claims that this cannot be the case since another chain that leads up to Zaid does not include the interpolation. Yet, no evidence suggests this and the existence of a separate chain without an interpolation does not mean that it must have come from a narrator that is exclusive to only one of the chains.

For example, Ibn Juraij and others narrate from Al-Zuhri from Salim that “Ibn Omar used to walk in front of funerals and that the Messenger (salalahu alaihi wa salam), Abu Bakr, Omar, and Uthman, walked in front of them.” Al-Khateeb Al-Baghdaadi in Al-Fasl lilwasl Al-Mudraj fi Al-Naql 1/330-337 argued that this is actually an interpolation by Al-Zuhri and that the correct narration is, “Ibn Omar used to walk in front of funerals.” Al-Zuhri then said, “The Prophet (salalahu alaihi wa salam) Abu Bakr, Omar, and Uthman, walked in front of them.” Al-Khateeb Al-Baghdaadi argued that the interpolation is to be attributed to Al-Zuhri in the first scenario even though his name can be found in both narrations. This goes against Shia author’s suggestion that the interpolation must be from a narrator that can only be found in one of the two reports.

As for the second narration, the narration of Abu Al-Za’raa’ Hujayyah Al-Kindi, we find that the “black container” is referred to as Ibn Al-Sawda’. Unless Ali was fond of referring to different people as “black containers,” it is safe to assume that this is referring to a single event and that Ibn Al-Sawda’ is Abdullah bin Saba’, the “black container.”


Fictional Characters in Historical Texts

Shia author Olawuyi through his book quotes several narrations that establish the existence of Ibn Saba’. He rightfully weakens most of them and correctly pinpoints the flaw in each chain. Even though he has failed with some of the narrations, as we have proven above, it is important to bring light to the irrationality of his methodology.

To suggest that Ibn Saba’ did not exist is not simply a baseless claim, but rather, it opens the doors to doubt the existence of thousands, if not millions, of historical personalities. All historians know that eye witness accounts represent a small fraction of what has reached us from recorded history. To simply suggest that everything that has been recorded was in actuality a fabrication unless it reaches us through a connected chain is a claim that was never made by any historian. Historians, skeptical of what has arrived to them from the past, look at the layers of information and attempt to filter out truth from falsehood based upon the evidences at hand. Even when a historian casts doubt on a specific event, it does not mean that they will dismiss those that were mentioned in the event as fictitious characters. Are we, due to Shia author’s conservative interpretation of the historical method to dismiss all the names of past kings that are recorded in the Old Testament due to the disconnected nature of the sources? Perhaps Shia author would like to dismiss the thousands of names in the book of Rijal Al-Tusi as fictional Shia narrators, since they cannot be found in authentic hadith chains? Surely, this goes against rational thought and will only lead to historical suicide.

If one were to describe a historical character as fictional, there needs to be solid evidence that suggests this. A good example from Shia sources is the case of the infamous narrator Omara bin Zaid. When Abdullah bin Mohammad Al-Balawi was asked about his teacher Omara, he replied, “He is a man that came down from the heavens, narrated to me, then returned.” Rijal Al-Najashi (p. 303). Ibn Al-Ghadha’iri, after mentioning that nobody has heard from Omara except for Abdullah bin Mohammad Al-Balawi, he comments, “Our companions say that it is a name for a nobody.” (Al-Rijal .p. 78).

When the objective student of history compares this to the example of Abdullah bin Saba’, it becomes beyond obvious that the two instances are miles apart when it comes to the evidences that suggests the existence of each of the two men.


Shia author Olawuyi’s personal stance towards Ibn Saba’:

Shia author on (p. iv) emphasizes that:

“… at this point that we, the Shī’ah Imāmīyyah, do NOT deny the existence of ‘Abd Allāh b. Sabā. Those of us who do that are in error, and their opinion does not bind our madhhab. It is only the Qur’ān and our authentic aḥādīth that do that. There indeed was once a man with that name, as our ṣaḥīḥ reports establish. However, the only statement that is true about him – from all that the Ahl al-Sunnah claim – is that he considered Amīr al-Mūminīn to be a god. Everything else is false, as nothing else is established in any reliable Sunnī or Shī’ī riwāyah.”

Even though the Shia author is correct in asserting that the narrations about Ibn Saba’ are mostly weak, it is problematic for him to act as if his views represent the Shi’ee school. His personal view that Ibn Saba’ was nothing more than a person that claimed godhood for Ali, contradicts the views that we have shared in our refutation.

Refer to p. 32 of Firaq Al-Shia by the top Shia classical historians Sa’ad Al-Ash’ari and Al-Nawbakhti, which we quoted in the initial portion of this article. They have stated clearly that there is a sect called the Saba’ee sect and that they are the followers of Ibn Saba’. They also include that they are the first exaggerators, and that Ibn Saba’ used to curse Abu Bakr and `Umar, believe in Raja’ah, believed in Imamah, and was originally a Jew.

Even though Shia author can claim that these opinions hold no weight without a chain of narrations, we can safely say that the opinions of these experts have more weight than the opinion of a contemporary author. Refer to Fihrist Al-Najashi p. 63 and p. 177 for his major praise of these two scholars. Al-Najashi refers to Sa’ad Al-Asha’ri as the Shaikh of the Ta’ifah (the group), which is a title that Shias today reserve for Al-Tusi, one of the most reputable and high stationed scholars in Shia history.



History cannot simply be rewritten overnight. The established fact of the existence of Abdullah bin Saba’ and his sect are undeniable to every truth seeker. The people of the ummah are indeed blessed to have such a rich history, one that has been documented by both the “winners” and “losers”, whoever they may be. However, to simply deny that Abdullah bin Saba’ and his sect existed is a crime, not only to the historical method, but to reason as well.

This Shia author, like the Shias of the past, has at least admitted that Abdullah bin Saba’ did exist and was accused of ghulu towards Ali bin Abi Talib, so we had no problem with him there.

However, to play a game by suggesting that this has not been established in the works of Ahl Al-Sunnah is senseless. To simply suggest that all the people that mentioned Abdullah bin Saba’ (through authentic chains), his sect, their beliefs, have conspired or should be disregarded, contradicts the academic standards that Shia author intended to hold in his preface.

Through academic study, we have concluded that Abdullah bin Saba’ did exist and so did his sects, and that his teachings can be linked to the evolved beliefs that are held by Twelver Shias today.

Praise be to Allah, the most gracious, most merciful.

Note: This article was extracted(with minor changes) from the book : “Abdullah ibn Saba: The man, his teachings, and his Influence on the Modern Twelver Shi’ee Faith”

3 thoughts on “Abdullah Ibn Saba – The Father of Rafidism: Doubts over his existence and his influence put to rest.

  1. wow, this article accepts that ibn saba is fiction etc, then through some thin threads of a link to a link to a link it argues that x was a reality according to these linkages therefore ibn saba was not a fiction

  2. As Salamu Alaikum,
    There are 2 types or narrations available about ibn Saba in Shia books-
    1. He was exiled to Madaen
    2. He was burnt alive
    Which is correct according to historical proofs?
    As I have read somewhere that, a group of Sabaiite people were burnt by Ali(r.a.) , not ibn Saba.

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