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Summary of question
What reason do Shia scholars have that proves the story of “Abdullah bin Saba’” by ‘Seyf bin Umar’ to be forged and false?
Shia scholars reject what has been asserted in history regarding Abdullah bin Saba’; their reason for this is that in the chain of transmitters of this story, there is Seyf bin Umar whom they consider famous for his lying. Please give some examples of his lies that he has become famous for, along with citations and references.
Concise answer

The true Islam is that which the Shia follow, the teachings of which Imam Ali (as) has received from the prophet and transmitted to his followers. The attribution of Shia beliefs to a Jew by the name of Abdullah bin Saba’, as many intellectual and narrative reasons affirm, is an all out lie. One of the reasons for its being forged, is the fact that Seyf bin Umar is the narrator of the story. This by itself is enough to prove our point, because not only is Seyf bin Umar devoid of all credibility in the eyes of the Shia, but Sunni scholars also consider his hadiths unreliable and see him as a liar. Some believe him to be a zindiq (a follower of Manichaeism) who would alter hadiths. Considering the unreliability of this individual in the view of scholars, his books and hadiths are also devoid of any credibility whatsoever.[i]

[i] Refer to the book Abdullah bin Saba’ va Digar Afsanehaye Taarikhi, by Allamah Seyyed Murtaza Asgari.

Detailed Answer

It can be said that the birth of Shiism coincides with the birth of the Quran, because the closest person to the prophet (pbuh) was Imam Ali (as) who received the teachings of the Quran straight from the prophet and transmitted them to others.

Some uneducated or malicious writers have claimed that Shiism goes back to the time of the third caliph. They speak of an Abdullah bin Saba’ and say that he was actually Jewish but pretended to be Muslim during Uthman’s reign, and his intention was to somehow harm Islam. In order to reach such a goal, he made up the concept of the immediate succession of Ali (as) and purported that one of the conditions of an imam is infallibility, and in effect, giving sanctity to imamate which was basically a political and normal issue. He also proposed the illegitimacy of the caliphate of the previous caliphs and provoked the people to rise against the caliph, which culminated in the assassination of the third caliph by the rebels. Based on this, Shiism is his making and creation.”[1]

Also, Ibn Saba’ is also known to be the founder of a cult by the name of Saba’iyyah and great figures such as AbuDhar Ghifari, Ammar bin Yaser, Abdul-Rahman bin Udays, Sa’sa’ah bin Sowhan, Muhammad bin Abi Hanifah, Muhammad bin Abu Bakr, Malek bin Abu Bakr, Malek Ashtar have been counted as affiliates of this fake cult.[2]

However, when referring to intellectual and narrative reasons, it becomes clear that such an attribution is nothing but a lie and an unfair accusation. Seyf bin Umar being the narrator of this story is only one of the reasons for its falsehood; something that we will elaborate on later. Here we will point to some of the intellectual and narrative reasons:

1- The concept of Shiism stems from the Quran, the tradition of the prophet (pbuh) and the intellect.[3] Verses such as the verse of Wilayah (Ma’idah:55), the verse of Tabligh (Ma’idah:67), the verse of Ikmaal (Ma’idah:3) and the verse of Kheyr al-Bariyyah (Bayyinah:7), hadiths such as the hadith of Safinah, Thaqalain, the incident of Ghadir Khum, and many other verses and hadiths; all of which clearly prove the abovementioned claim. Discussing each of these proofs separately is beyond the scope of this article and has been done extensively in related books and even this website.

2- In the sources of the Shia, and also in the book of Milal wa Nihal, Abdullah bin Saba’ has been considered a Ghaali (exaggerator) who deifies Imam Ali (as). It has been stated therein that the imam dealt with him harshly. First he exiled him and then ordered for his death.[4] He has always been the subject of the curses of the imams in other hadiths.[5]  It is very clear that such a person cannot be the founder of Shiism.

3- Shia scholars, taking after the infallible imams, have also seriously criticized and wounded and cursed him throughout history. For example, regarding Abdullah bin Saba’, Kaashif al-Ghitaa, a very prominent scholar of the past century, has written: As for Abdullah bin Saba’ who has been introduced as a Shia and to whom some stick the Shia, it is the books of the Shia that curse him and have expressed their disgust of, and the only small thing that rijiali scholars have said about him is that he is so cursed that there is no need of making any mention of him.[6] If he was actually a founder of Shiism, Shia scholars would speak of him honorably and greatly.

4- This theory (of bin Saba’ being the founder of Shiism) entails us seeing the Islamic caliphate as unaware of realities and developments taking place in the Islamic nation, or indifferent about the fate of Islam and the Muslims, or incapable of confronting controversies, while reports tell us that the third caliph (Uthman) and the officials of his government would deal with their opposers harshly and boldly, even if they were of the great companions of the prophet (pbuh), as was the case with Abu Dhar al-Ghifari who was exiled to Rabadhah, or Ammar Yasir who was severely beaten, which led to a deficiency in his body. In this case, how can the government’s silence and indifference regarding such a heretic as Abdullah bin Saba’ and such a great controversy be justified?[7]

5- As was mentioned, great personalities such as AbuDhar, Ammar, Muhammad bin Abu Bakr, etc., have been accused of being supporters of Abdullah bin Saba’ and affiliated with the cult of Saba’iyyah; this itself is a reason for the falsehood of this myth. How can Ammar be a follower of Abdullah bin Saba’ the Jew, while he is the fourth person to embrace Islam in history and the prophet (pbuh) has said about him: “The blue sky hasn’t cast its shadow on any speaker, and the earth hasn’t had any speaker more truthful than AbuDhar”[8], and: “Indeed Allah has ordered me to love AbuDhar and…”[9] and has also said: “Ammar’s essence has become filled with faith”[10] and: “O Ammar, the lot of aggressors will kill you”[11] and…

6- If there really was a person by the name of Abdullah bin Saba’ with such characteristics that have been attributed to him, then why didn’t those who had animosity towards the Shia and wouldn’t hesitate to damage their reputation ever make any mention of such a story in their writings and words? If such a story was really true, Mu’awiyah and his advocates wouldn’t have thought twice about using it against the Shia, while there are no historical reports that have even made the slightest mention of this matter anywhere in the sources.[12]

7- The first and most major source that has brought up the myth of Bin Saba’ is the book of Tabari (d 310), and Ibn Athir (d 630), Ibn Kathir (d 774), and Ibn Khaldun (d 808) have quoted him on it in their own books. Also, the only transmitter Tabari narrates this story from is Seyf bin Umar.[13] This is while in the preface of this book he writes: “Know that the different narrations we have mentioned in our book from those before us that the reader may deny, and the listener may reject because of the lack of any corroborating reasons for their accuracy, don’t belong to the writer himself, ….all we do is narrate these things as they have reached us.”[14] By this, he admits that he doesn’t believe in the authenticity of everything he has narrated and places the responsibility of what he narrates on the shoulders of those before him.

Add to this the fact that major sources such as Tabaqaat of Ibn Sa’d and Ansab al-Ashraf of Baladheri that engage in narrating accounts of incidents of the time of the third khalifah and his assassination have made no mention of this story!![15]

Some great scholars and researchers, such as the late Allamah Askari, relying on hadithic and historical reasons and clues, has questioned the actual existence of such a person in history and only see him as the creation of Seyf bin Umar’s mind.[16]

9- As was mentioned before, the only source that makes mention of this story is the history of Tabari. However, the narrators of its chain of transmitters are either unknown or unreliable and lacking credibility in the eyes of rijal scholars. Its chain of narrators is as follows: 1- Sariyy 2- Shu’ayb 3- Seyf bin Umar 4- Atiyyah 5- Yazid Faq’asiyy. To keep it short, we will only analyze the first transmitter in this chain, ‘Sariyy’, from whom Tabari narrates this story directly, and then will speak of the great liar in history, Seyf bin Umar.

On the one hand, when Tabari narrates this story from Sariyy, he doesn’t specify who his family and tribe are. On the other hand, in one case, when narrating something in his book transmitted to him orally, the name he mentions is Sariyy bin Yahya[17]. From here it becomes clear that in instances where he narrates from ‘Sariyy’ without making any mention of his father or tribe, the person intended is Sariyy bin Yahya, the story of Abdullah bin Saba’ being one of these instances. Nevertheless, such a narrator is still majhul or ‘unknown’ because it is still unclear who he exactly is; there are several Sariyy bin Yahyas that the Sariyy bin Yahya in this story can identify with:

a) Sariyy bin Yahya bin Ayas, but since he died in the year 167 and Tabari was born in 224, he couldn’t have narrated from him.

b) Sariyy bin Yahya bin Sariyy bin Hanad bin Sariyy: Although he is Tabari’s contemporary, but neither has anyone narrated from him, nor has he narrated from anyone. Also, no one has ever said that he was a narrator of hadiths and his biography hasn’t been mentioned in rijal sources. Therefore, since he is unknown, if he is the one Tabari has narrated from, his narration will not be reliable.

c) Some believe the person Tabari narrates from to be Sariyy bin Ismael Hamedani Kufi, the cousin of Sha’bi and his scribe, but this theory is also incorrect, because firstly, Sha’bi died in 103 while as was said before, Tabari was born in 224, so Sha’bi’s scribe, Sariyy, couldn’t have lived in the same time as Tabari in order for Tabari to have narrated from him. Secondly, assuming that Tabari has narrated from him, it still won't do any good, because this Sariyy is devoid of any credibility in the eyes of rijal scholars and is seen as unreliable.

d) Yet another group believe Tabari to narrate from Sariyy bin Aasim bin Sahl Abu Aasim Hamedani. Although this individual is a contemporary of Tabari’s, but he also has no credibility among rijal scolars and some even introduce him as a hadith thief and liar, etc.[18]

To sum it up, the Sariyy Tabari narrates from has an unknown identity and personality, and according to all rijal scholars, such a person can in no way be relied on in narrations. The rest of the narrators in the chain of transmitters of the hadith of Ibn Saba’ have a similar status of that of Sariyy’s. If one desires, he can refer to rijal books regarding the rest of the narrators in the chain of this hadith.[19]

As for Seyf bin Umar:

Regarding Seyf and his life, researchers have said that he was a Baghdadi, and originally from Kufa, and that his sayings and narrations are weak and unreliable. He died during the reign of Harun al-Rashid in the year of 170 AH. He has two books by the names of Al-Futuh al-Kabir wa al-Raddah and Al-Jamal wa Masir A’ishah. In the first book, he has addressed the history a little before the prophet’s passing till the reign of Uthman, and in the latter, he has covered the revolt against Uthman, his assassination and the battle of Jamal, but since he is devoid of credibility in the eyes of scholars, his books and narrations bear no reliability and scholarly value.[20]

Paying attention to several points about Seyf bin Umar will shed further light on his true personality:

a) Examining the views of rijal scholars and experts on Seyf makes it clear to us that this individual is nothing but a liar and that the myth of Abdullah bin Saba’ is merely one of his made-up stories. The following are the viewpoints of some Sunni scholars regarding Seyf bin Umar:

1- Yahya bin Mu’in: His (Seyf’s) narrations are faulty and weak and there is no good in his hadiths.[21]

2- Nisa’i, compiler of one of the Sihah: He is weak, they [scholars] have abandoned his hadiths, he is neither reliable nor trustworthy.[22]

3- Abu Dawud: Devoid of any value, he lies very much.[23]

4- Bin Hammaad Aqili: His hadiths aren't acted upon, none of his many hadiths should be acted upon.[24]

5- Bin Abi Haatam: He would ruin authentic hadiths and that is why they wouldn’t rely on his hadiths and abandoned them.[25]

6- Bin Habbaan: He would attribute hadiths he would make up to reliable narrators. Bin Habbaan also claims him to be of the Zendiqs and they have said that he would forge hadiths.[26]

7- Daar Qutni: He is weak and they have abandoned his hadiths.[27]

8- Haakem: They have abandoned his hadiths; he is accused of being of the Zendiqs.[28]

9- Ibn Udayy: Some of his hadiths may have reached high degrees of fame, but I personally think that none of his hadiths can be relied on and it is because of this that none of them are acted upon.[29]

10- Firuz Abadi, author of Qamus, Ibn Hajar[30] and Safiyyuddin[31]: He is weak.

11- Dhahabi: All Islamic scholars and researchers agree that he is weak and that his hadiths are abandoned.[32]

There are other scholars who share the same viewpoints but we will leave it at this amount.

b) He makes mention of persons and cities and incidents that never existed that he had merely made up himself. The great researcher Allamah Askari in his books of “One Hundred and Fifty Sahabah” (four volumes) and “Abdullah bin Saba’” (three volumes) has analyzed some of them; we will point to only two examples to keep it short:

1- Seyf names different cities, namely Irmath, Ighwaath, Ammas, Wuluth, Tawus, etc., none of which have been mentioned in any geographical books except the book of Hamawi (d 626) who quotes them from Seyf (d 170) in Mu’jam al-Buldaan. This is while in the rest of such books, namely: Sifatu Jazirat al-Arab, by Ibn Haa’ik Yaqubi, Futuh al-Buldaan, by Beladheri, Mukhtasar al-Buldaan, by Ibn al-Faqih, Al-Aathaar al-Baaqiyah ‘an al-Qurun al-Khaaliyah, by Abu Reyhaan Biruni, Mu’jamu Mastu’jim, by Bakri Wazir, and Taqwim al-Buldaan, by Isma’il Saheb Humaat, which have all been written about different cities, there is no mention of such cities.

Out of later writers and orientalists, “Lestrange”, author of Buldaan al-Khilafah al-Sharqiyyah and “Umar Reza Kohalah” author of Shebhe Jazireye Arabestaan[33] have paid no attention to Hamawi and haven't mentioned such cities in their books.

2- Seyf speaks of days by the names of Yawm al-Jaraathim or the day of famine, Yawm al-Nahib, Irmaath, Yawm al-Abaqir (the day of the cows), etc. and has made up a story whose summary is:

In the battle of Faars, Sa’d bin Abi Waqqaas settled at a waterhole by the name of Udhayb al-Hajaanaat. Sa’d ordered Aasem bin Amr to go down to the Euphrates to get a sheep or cow but he failed. After a while he comes across a person and asks him to lead him to a place that has cows and sheep, but he swears by God that he doesn’t know where they can find any, while the truth of the matter is that he himself is a shepherd and his flock is in a nearby grove. At this time a cow calls out that “By God he is lying, we are here!

During the reign of Hajjaaj, news of this event reaches him and he names this day the ‘Day of Cows’.

Allamah Askari challenges this myth saying: “In the chain of the Day of Cows there is Abdullah bin Muslim Akali and Karb ibn Abi Karb Akali. As is the case with many of the narrators Seyf narrates from, there are no signs of these two individuals in any rijal sources; Balaadheri (in Futuh al-Buldaan, pg. 265) recounts the story of the army of Sa’d in the battle of Faars like this: Whenever the army of Sa’d was in need of provisions, he would send a group of horsemen to plunder an area from a lower part of the Euphrates and bring back provisions; Umar would also send them cows and sheep from Medinah”.[34]

These are only several examples of the lies of Seyf bin Umar. We think this is enough for one to be able to make a judgment!

Considering what was mentioned how can one rely on such a person’s claims and see the story of Abdullah bin Saba’ to be true?!

[1] Rabbani Golpaygani, Ali, Dar Amadi bar Shia Shenasi, pg. 64.

[2] Refer to the source in 1.

[3] Refer to theology books.

[4] Rabbani Golpaygani, Ali, Dar Amadi bar Shia Shenasi, pg. 66; Ikhtiyar Ma’rifat al-Rijal also known as Rijal Kashi, with annotations by MirDamaad, pg. 323.

[5] Ibid, pg. 324.

[6] Kaashif al-Ghitaa’, Asl al-Shia wa Usuluhaa, pg. 72.

[7] Rabbani Golpaygani, Ali, Dar Amadi bar Shia Shenasi, pg. 64.

[8] Al-Isabah, vol. 4, pg. 64 and Musnad Ahmad, vol. 2, pg. 163.

[9] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 22, pg. 326.

[10] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 33, pg. 25.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Rabbani Golpaygani, Ali, Dar Amadi bar Shia Shenasi, pg. 65.

[13] Al-Sheikh Asad Heydar, Abdullah bin Saba’ min Mandhurin Aakhar, pg. 40.

[14] Taarikh Tabari, vol. 1, pg. 5.

[15] Abdullah Fayaz, Peydayesh va Gostareshe Tashayyo’, pg. 124.

[16] Refer to Abdullah bin Saba’ va Digar Afsanehaye Taarikhi, Allamah Askari.

[17] Taarikh Tabari, vol. 3, pg. 213.

[18] Adopted from the book of Abdullah bin Saba’ min Mandhurin Aakhar, pp. 52-54.

[19] Tahdhib al-Kamaal, vol. 12, pg. 324 and Abdullah bin Saba’ min Mandhurin Aakhar, pp. 54, 55 and 56.

[20] Refer to Abdullah bin Saba’ va Digar Afsanehaye Taarikhi by Allamah Askari.

[21] Kitab al-Dhu’afaa’, vol. 2, pg. 245.

[22] Al-Dhu’afaa’ wa al-Matrukin, pg. 51, no. 215.

[23] Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, vol. 4, pg. 295.

[24] Al-Dhu’afaa’ al-Kabir, vol. 2, pg. 175.

[25] Al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil, vol. 7, pg. 136.

[26] Al-Majruhin, vol. 1, pg. 345.

[27] Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, vol. 4, pg. 296.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, vol. 4, pg. 295.

[31] Khulasah al-Tahdhib, pg. 126.

[32] Al-Ma’naa fi al-Dhu’afaa’, vol. 1, pg. 292.

[33] Abdullah bin Saba’ va Digar Afsanehaye Taarikhi, pg. 301.

[34] Ibid, pg. 283.

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