The Myth of Abdullāh ibn Saba`
The summary of this myth is: “A man named Abdullāh ibn Saba`, a Jew from Yemen, pretended to be a follower of Islam during the reign of `Uthmān in order to cause mischief to the Muslims. He moved about the main Islamic metropolises in Egypt, Syria, Basra and Kūfa, spreading the “glad tiding” that the Prophet (ṣ) would return to life, that Ali (`a) was his wasi, and that `Uthmān was the usurper of the right of this wasi. Groups from among senior sahābah and tābi`īn such as `Ammār ibn Yāsir, Abū Dharr, Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah and others. He was able to raise armies to kill caliph `Uthmān at his own house.” Thus does the series of events of this fabricated myth continue till it ends with the Battle of the Camel when Abdullāh ibn Saba` orders his followers to sneak into the army of Ali (`a) and of `Ā`isha without their knowledge in order to stir a war, and “thus did the Battle of the Camel take place.” Sayyid Murtadha al-`Askari, who stood to expose the fallacy of this imagined myth, states that “The person who fabricated this personality [Abdullāh ibn Saba`] is Sayf ibn `Amr al-Tamīmi al-Barjami al-Kūfi, who died in A.H. 170 (A.D. 786), and from him all other historians quoted it. Then this fabricated incident gained fame and spread in history books acrossx the centuries and till our time, so much so that it has become one of the famous incidents the authenticity of which nobody doubts. The vast majority of writers and historians in the East as well as Orientalists have been blinded to the fact that this incident was the brainchild of one single narrator, a lone individual who acted on his own, and that this narrator, namely Sayf ibn `Amr, is very well known by ancient scholars of hadīth as a fabricator and is even accused of being an unbeliever. Ibn Dāwūd says the following about him: “He is nothing; he is a liar.” Ibn Abd al-Birr says, “Sayf is rejected. We have cited his tradition only to inform you of it.” Al-Nisā`i says this about him: “His traditions are weak. He is not trusted, and nobody has any faith in him.”Yet this same lying narrator is quoted by al-Tabari, Ibn `Asākir, Ibn Abū Bakr, etc., and al-Tabari has been and is being quoted by all other writers and historians till our time. It is well known that incidents narrated by one single person do not satisfy the scientific thinking, nor can they be used as evidence. How is it, then, when this same narrator is not trusted and was famous for being a liar and an unbeliever? Can his narrative be accepted? How can one accept to pass a judgment against a large segment of the Muslims by simply relying on incidents related by lone individuals who have been proven to be liars while there are ahadīth that are consecutively reported [mutawātir] from the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) which prove the opposite?One of the greatest historical farces is to attribute Shī`ism to a mythical man, namely Abdullāh ibn Saba`, claiming he was the one who disseminated the concept of “Ali (`a) thewasi” despite the existence of a huge number of authentic texts proving that Shī`ism has always been to follow Muhammad (ṣ) and nobody else. Refer to the Imāmate texts on the previous pages to see where this Abdullāh ibn Saba` fits. Is Abdullāh ibn Saba` the one who said, “I am leaving among you that which, if you uphold them, you shall never stray: the Book of Allāh and my `itrat, my Ahl al-Bayt”? Or is he the one who said, “Anyone who has accepted me as his master, Ali is his master”? Or is he the one who said that the Imāms are twelve in number? What a ridiculous tale it is that says that a Jew has come from Yemen to hypocritically declare his acceptance of Islam then carries out all these extra-ordinary deeds which reach the limit of getting Muslim armies to battle each other without anyone discovering his true identity?! Is it reasonable to accept that Imām Ali (`a), about whom the Messenger of Allāh (ṣ) said, “I am the city of wisdom and Ali is its gate,” fall a victim to the trickery of this Jew? Surely one who says so has strayed far, far away from the right track.
`Allāma al-`Askari, Ahādīth Umm al-Mu`mineen, p. 272.
Besides him, a number of scholarly researchers, such as Taha Husayn in Vol. 1 of his book titled Al-Fitna al-Kubra(the great dissension) and Dr. Kāmil al-Shaybi in his book titledAl-Sila Bayna al-Tashayyu`wal Tasawwuf (the relationship between Shi`ism and Sufism), have all rejected the notion that such an individual ever existed in reality.
Excerpted and edited from the book titled Abdullāh ibn Saba` by `allāma Sayyid Murtadha al-`Askari.