Monday, January 7, 2013

'Abd Allah ibn Saba'

‘Abd Allah ibn Saba’ (b. ca. 600), also known as Abdullah ibn Saba or Ibn Sauda, was the reputed founder of the Shi‘a. It is not clear what historical person or persons lay behind this figure.

Abdullah ibn Saba, also known as Ibn Sauda (because his mother was a black Ethiopian), is an allegedly historical person whom some Wahhabi Sunnis state was a Jewish convert who laid the foundation for the later sect of the Shi'a.

Abdullah ibn Saba was originally from the city of Sana'a in Yemen. He was a Jewish rabbi who claimed a conversion to Islam. He moved to Kufa and started adversely criticizing the caliph's administration. From there he went to Egypt where he founded an anti-othmanian 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 caliphate by deceit. Abdullah ibn Sada was able to promote 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'a persuasion, and a strong supporter of 'Ali. He is the first one who introduced the concept of imamate for '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. However, when Ibn Saba claimed that 'Ali is himself God by addressing him with the words, "Thou art Thou", 'Ali declared Ibn Saba a heretic; burned some of his followers ; and expelled Ibn Saba to Madain.

After 'Ali's assassination, Abdullah ibn Saba is said to have taught that 'Ali was not dead but rather 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. Until 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.

'Abd Allah ibn Sabaʾ (or "Sabaʾ", also sometimes called Ibn al-Sawdaʾ, Ibn Wahb, or Ibn Harb) was a 7th-century Jew and a figure in Islamic history who may have had an actual historical existence and is often associated with a group of followers called the Saba'iyya.
Some modern historical views are not clear what person lay behind this figure. Some believe that 'Abd Allah ibn Saba may have been actually several figures, semi-legendary, or legendary and fictional but Jewish scholars affirm his existence.

Most modern Sunni writers affirm the existence of Ibn Saba'. On the other hand, Shi'a writers deny Ibn Saba's historical existence apparently in an attempt to rid Shi'ism of the accusation by Sunni writers that Shi'ism was originally based on Judaic doctrines.
Alternative names include:

'Abd Allah ibn Saba'
'Abd Allah ibn Sabaʾ al-Himyari
'Abdullah ibn Saba'
Ibn al-Sawda'
Ibn Harb
Ibn Saba'
Ibn Saba', 'Abd Allah
Ibn Saba', 'Abdullah
Ibn Saba' al-Himyari
Ibn Saba' al-Himyari, 'Abd Allah
Ibn Sauda
Ibn Wahb

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