On the 16 August 1999 the Iranian embassy objected to an article published in “Al Rasheed” which accurately proved Abdullah Ibn Saba’ to be the founder of the Shia creed. Hereunder is the reply to this objection, wherein the Shia tactic of denying his existence, which is so often used, was completely uprooted and his existence proven from the canonical works of the Shiah. In addition, the very sources cited by the embassy as proof for his non-existence is shown to prove the exact opposite.
A letter from the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
In the name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Merciful
In the last issue of “Al Rasheed” an article entitled Abdullah lbn Saba: Founder of Shi’ism was published in which unfortunately some accusations were made against Shi’ism.
The article, the author of which is not known, tries to, through some false accusations made against Shi‘a Ulamah, establish that the Jew Abdullah ibn Saba is the founder of Shia’ism, and that Shi’ism is based on Judaism.
While the truth is that the quoted phrase is tampered with in a way which reflects an understanding completely opposite to what the source reads.
Shi’ism, with millions of followers throughout the world, and having a historical background of over 1400 years is based on Quran and Holy Hadiths by our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him). For example to prove the Caliphate of Ali ibn Abi Talib, Shi’ites have had recourse to some Quranic verses and hadiths of the Holy Prophet. Of course these hadiths, most of which are also accepted by Sunnism, have not been understood by the two denominations in the same way.
It is regrettable that in an era when the Muslims need to more than ever unite against their fierce enemies; especially so amongst the two main schools of thought namely Sunnis and Shia’s; such disturbing accusations are spread out; not giving enough time and means to Shia’s and their beliefs.
Below I have enlisted a number of books as sources for seekers of truth and followers of scientific and historic debates for their reference:
- ABDULLAH IBN SABA AND OTHER MYTHS by Allamah Askari
- THE ORIGINS AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF SHI’A ISLAM by S.H.M Jafri)
- SHl’A by Allamah Tabatabai
- Computeric software including BIHAR AL ANWAR and RIJAL ALKASHI.
A copy of these books is available in the Embassy’s library. I do not know however of the existence of other copies elsewhere in the country.
Those interested are hereby invited to make use of our library to find out for themselves the scientific and logical way in which the said unscientific accusations have been responded.
Please do not hesitate to contact me at the following number to arrange for such facilities.
OFFICE TEL: (012) 342 8880/1
FAX NO: (012) 342 4790
M.H. BORJIAN YAZDI
I 6 AUG 1999
Mr. M.H. Borjian Yazdi
Receipt has been taken of your letter dated 15 August 1999, in which you voiced dissatisfaction with the article Abdullah ibn Saba: The Founder of Shi‘ism. Your concern as the diplomatic representatives of Iran over an article of this nature is understood. Understood too, are the sentiments you express where you say that “it is regrettable that in an era when the Muslims need to more than ever united against their fierce enemies; especially so amongst the two main schools of thought namely Sunnis and Shia’s; such disturbing accusations are spread out not giving enough time and means to Shia’s and their beliefs.”
Sunnism & Shi‘ism
However, as much as one would want to gloss over the differences between the Ahlus Sunnah and the Shia, the fact of the matter is that the differences do exist, and that by their very nature they make each group’s claim to the Truth an exclusive one.
It is precisely for this reason that the propagation of Shi‘ism has continued unabatedly in Sunni societies, more often than not with funding from, and the sanction of, Iran. To the best of our knowledge your government has never expressed the least reservation over the huge amount of Shia propagationist literature flowing to Sunni communities out of Iran, nor about the activities of missionaries actively engaged in the propagation of Shi‘ism amongst Sunnis, with financial backing from Iranian foundations.
This has given rise to a situation where the Ahlus Sunnah have become so alarmed by the rate of proselytising in their communities that calls of people like yourself for “Muslim unity in the face of the fierce enemies of Islam” have come to be seen as a smokescreening device intended to create the diversion under cover of which Shia missionaries will penetrate into Sunni societies. If this assertion could once upon a time be dismissed as an unfounded assumption, it has now found a basis for itself in two decades of bitter experience, in South Africa and elsewhere.
It is not intended here to deny you the right to propagate your beliefs, since the constitution of our country upholds freedom of belief. Our intention is to bring it to your notice that when the Shia have opted to exercise their right to propagate their faith, they should not be surprised or express regret at the inevitable consequences.
When Iran declared Ithna ‘Ashari Shi‘ism the state religion, it set itself up as the champion of Shi‘ism.
(Incidentally this is also the reason why you, as the cultural attaché of your country, took exception to the article Abdullah ibn Saba: The Founder of Shi‘ism.) Therefore it is fully comprehensible to us why Iran will not permit Sunni missionary groups to operate on Iranian soil. But we become completely mystified when we see the double standards of Iran itself sending missionaries, or acquiescing to the funding and sending of missionaries to communities such as ours who are not in a position to defend its faith through political or legal power.
Crux of the issue
This issue does not revolve simply around Ibn Saba. It goes much further than that. It has to do in the first instance with each group’s claim to being the true form of Islam, and by logical extension, with the way in which each group accounts for the existence of the other.
The Shia and the Ahlus Sunnah both claim that their form of Islam is the true one. This assertion is probably beyond contention from either side. The real problem lies in the implication of these respective claims. If “A” lays claim to the truth, it is simultaneously claiming that the claim of “B” is false, and vice versa. We know that this perspective of the relationship between the Ahlus Sunnah and the Shia is an extremely sensitive one, but it is a question that must be addressed if we are to have an appreciation of all the various dimensions to this issue.
Shi‘ism makes no secret of the fact that it regards the faith and practice of the Ahlus Sunnah as the corruption of Islam by the Companions of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam) primarily, and the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties secondarily. References to support this contention abound in the books of the Shia, some of which are now quoted here:
God knows what misfortunes Islam has suffered from its inception down to the present at the hands of these evil ‘ulama! Abu Hurayra was one of the fuqaha, but God knows what judgements he falsified for Mu‘awiyah and others like him, and what damage he inflicted upon Islam. (Ayatullah Khomeini, Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini, p. 114, translated and annotated by Hamid Algar)
We conclude here that the Shia are the true followers of the Prophetic Sunnah… Whereas the Ahlus Sunnah have expressly contradicted the Prophetic Sunnah. (Muhammad Tijani Samawi, The Shia: The Real Followers of the Sunnah p. 314, Ansariyan Publications, Qum 1995) It is self evident that the Khulafa ar-Rashidun (except Imam ‘Ali) have practised ijtihad with their opinions against the Prophetic Sunnah. (ibid. p. 315)
The religion was exploited for the political needs. Both the Omayyids and the Abbasids deepened and strengthened sectarian and religious prejudices among the Muslims in order to use them for their own purposes. They exaggerated and amplified the idea of seniority of persons other than Ali in the matter of the Caliphate. In these efforts of theirs, they were helped by those Ulema (scholars) who cared much for the worldly positions. The rulers spent money on such scholars who in turn reported fabricated Traditions suitable to the rulers, especially during the Omayyid period, as we have already said. People follow the religion of their kings. They also said what their rulers did. Then came those who were not aware of the real situation. saw these fabricated traditions and made-to-order injunctions and took them for true ones. They further passed them on in their books. Those who came later found these Traditions in the books attributed to great personalities which made them accept them as true. Thus these traditions got disseminated between the people. Everyone read them, talked about them in their gatherings and discussed them in their classes and schools. In this time passed on and such ideas got currency amongst the common masses so much so that those who knew the truth were swept away by the pressure of public opinion and these false ideas, which it is proper to discuss, took the form of a regular creed. (Hassan ul-Amine, Shorter Shi’ite Encyclopaedia, pp. 78-79, Ansariyan Publications, Qum, 1997)
(For further reference, see the books an-Nass wal Ijtihad by ‘Abd al Hussain Sharaf adDeen, and Ma‘alim al Madrasatayn by Murtada al ‘Askari.)
We hope that notice will have been taken here of the fact that the quoted sources were published in Iran within the last five years. If the Shia thus have a freedom of using the printed word for disseminating their own opinion about the origin of Sunni faith and practice, we are baffled as to why umbrage should be taken when the Ahlus Sunnah express their honest opinion about the origins of Shi‘ism. If Iranian sensors find nothing objectionable in literature such as the quoted sources, why should Sunnis be expected to practice reservation? And, if such inflammatory statements do not give you, the Shia, reason to regret that “in an era when the Muslims need to more than ever unite against their fierce enemies; especially so amongst the two main schools of thought namely Sunnis and Shia’s; such disturbing accusations are spread out”, why are we, the Ahlus Sunnah, being told that making accusations like this spells disaster for Muslim unity? Surely the authors of the quoted sources were also not “giving enough time and means to Sunnis and their beliefs”.
For as long as the Shia will persist to view Muslim unity as a one-way street in which they alone have the exclusive right to fling the stones and hurl the sticks, it will remain the mirage it presently is.
If, on the other hand, it is argued that these are things that are historically verifiable, we would submit that if the act of verifying the truth is supposed to have a preconceived result, it is a meaningless exercise. On the other hand, if it is going to be a completely objective process, it will inevitably threaten the Muslim unity whose destruction you fear. But let us, for the sake of demonstration, engage in just one such exercise.
Abdullah ibn Saba
Let us discuss, first of all, the historical existence, and thereafter, the role of Ibn Saba, in order to ascertain whether the Sunni position that he was the founder of conventional Shi‘ism is based on scientific research, or unfounded accusations.
The existence of Ibn Saba
Murtada al ‘Askari’s entire argument for denying Ibn Saba’s historicity rests upon the fact that Ibn Jarir at-Tabari’s Tarikh, as the major reference for historical material on Ibn Saba, uses Sayf ibn ‘Umar at- Tamimi as his sole source for describing the character and exploits of Ibn Saba. He states on page 20:
All historians agree that the story [of Ibn Saba] was told first of all by Saif.
He then gives a list of 22 historians, all of whom have relied, directly or indirectly, upon the information supplied by Sayf, and remarks:
The above list gives evidence to the fact that the story of ‘Abdullah Bin Saba’ has been started by Saif and cited primarily from Tabari. (Murtada al ‘Askari, ‘Abdullah ibn Sabaand Other Myths, Part One, p. 21, second edition, published by A Group of Muslim Brothers, Tehran 1981)
This is exactly the Achilles’ heel of al ‘Askari’s research. He has—intentionally or unintentionally— displayed myopic scholarship by asserting that Sayf ibn ‘Umar is the only source for the existence of Ibn Saba. A mere look at the biography of Sayf in Ibn Hajar al ‘Asqalani’s Lisan al Mizan (vol. 4 p. 22 of the edition published by Dar Ihya’ at-Turath al ‘Arabi, and edited by Muhammad ‘Abd ar-Rahman al Mar‘ashli) would have revealed to him just how erroneous his assertion is. The sources from which Ibn Hajar has drawn, such as the 70 volume Tarikh Madinat Dimashq by Ibn ‘Asakir, and the Musnad by Abu Ya‘la al Mawsili have been published, and by means of their chains of narration that pass through authorities other than Sayf ibn ‘Umar, eloquently testify to the intellectual deception practiced by al ‘Askari. (See Ibn ‘Asakir, Tarikh Madinat Dimashq vol. 29 pp. 3-10, where he has filled seven pages with information on Ibn Saba.)
Al ‘Askari did in fact make mention of the history of Ibn ‘Asakir in his survey of the historical sources that mention Ibn Saba. However, in his eagerness to create the (false) perception that all the historical threads link up to Sayf ibn ‘Umar, he committed the deception of singling out one of the twelve independent accounts as being derived by Ibn ‘Asakir through Sayf, and making as if the remaining 11 reports do not exist. (See ‘Abdullah ibn Saba and Other Myths, p. 47) The fact is that 10 of the remaining 11 reports pass through authorities other than Sayf, but that is a fact that al ‘Askari conveniently chose to overlook.
The term “intellectual deception” might seem a bit too harsh a description for a researcher who was probably not informed about that wealth of information. But it appears very justified when it is considered that the existence of Ibn Saba is attested to in the legacy of the Shia themselves, and by the Imams of the Shia themselves. If it could be pleaded that al ‘Askari was ignorant of the historical information documented by Ibn ‘Asakir and others, there is no way that same plea could ever be accepted in terms of the legacy of the Shia. After all, a learned researcher who spent so much time and effort fine-combing the voluminous works of history is definitely expected to encompass the contents of his own legacy first.
In his survey of historical works, which he purports to be exhaustive, not a single mention has been made of the literature of the Shia. Not a single classical Shia source features on the chart he gives on page 50. The fact is that the existence of Ibn Saba is attested to in almost every Shia biographical work. Dr. Sa‘di al Hashimi in his book Ibn Saba: Haqiqah La Khayal (pp. 25-28, Maktabat ad-Dar, Madina 1406) has listed over 20 Shia sources that testify to the existence of Ibn Saba. We might mention by way of example just one of those works. Incidentally the book happens to be one of the books contained in the list you mentioned in your letter. The only difference is that your copy is computerised, while ours is a printed book. The book we refer to is Ikhtiyar Ma‘rifat ar-Rijal, which is Abu Ja‘far at-Tusi’s recension of Abu ‘Amr al Kashshi’s 4th century biographical dictionary of Shia hadith narrators. In this book the entry for Ibn Saba spans a full two pages (323-324), and consists of five separate reports, their numbers running from 170 to 174. Below we give you a list of the Imams with whom these five reports originate:
170: Imam Muhammad al Baqir
171: Imam Jafar as-Sadiq
172: Imam Jafar as-Sadiq
173: Imam Zayn al ‘Abidin
174: Imam Jafar as-Sadiq
(See Ikhtiyar Ma‘rifat ar-Rijal, pp. 323-324, ed. as-Sayed Mahdi ar-Rijali, published by Mu’assasat Al al Bayt, Qum, 1404) The reporters of these narrations are all of the Shia. Therefore, if we were to apply al ‘Askari’s hypothesis to these reports documented by al Kashshi, we would have to conclude that Sayf ibn ‘Umar even succeeded in pulling wool over the eyes of these venerable Imams by making them believe that ‘Abdullah ibn Saba, who is supposed to be a figment of his own imagination, actually existed. I think you will agree that such a conclusion is highly absurd. It wouldn’t take a genius to figure that the source of that absurdity is al ‘Askari’s hypothesis, “that the story of ‘Abdullah Bin Saba’ has been started by Saif and cited primarily from Tabari”.
Another book you have listed The Origins and Early Development of Shi‘a Islam by S.H.M. Jafri. Please be informed that Jafri does not make any definitive conclusions about Ibn Saba. His words are:
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. (Jafri, The Origins and Early Development of Shi‘a Islam, p. 300, Ansariyan Publications, Qum)
We have thus far had one Shia writer—al ‘Askari—who completely denies the historicity of Ibn Saba, and another—Jafri—who is undecided. We will add a citation from the work of a third contemporary Shia writer who categorically affirms the existence of Ibn Saba. Shaykh Muhammad Hussain az-Zayn al ‘Amili writes in his book ash-Shia fit-Tarikh:
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. (Muhammad Hussain az- Zayn, ash-Shia fit-Tarikh, p. 213, Dar al Athar, Beirut, 1979)
Here we have three different positions on the existence of Ibn Saba. All three belong to Shia writers. Two of them are listed by you as “sources for seekers of truth and followers of scientific and historic debates”. Do we have the freedom of choosing the one which seems most likely to be the truth, or is the selection of the true opinion the prerogative of the Shia?
The role of Ibn Saba
Now, having dealt with the problem of Ibn Saba’s existence, we may move on to discuss his role in the historical development of Shi‘ism.
Ibn Saba is held responsible for the introduction of many phenomena which later developed into hallmark aspects of Shi‘ism. The Shia (or at least those of them who accept his existence, like Shaykh Muhammad Hussain az-Zayn al ‘Amili) admit that he exhibited extremist tendencies. In the Tarikh of Ibn ‘Asakir he is on record as having:
- vilified Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (Ibn ‘Asakir vol. 29 pp. 8,9)
- believed the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa-alihi wasallam) to have imparted to ‘Ali special knowledge which was not known to anyone but him. (Ibn ‘Asakir vol. 29 p. 9)
- believed ‘Ali to have been the Dabbat al Ard, the creator and the giver of sustenance (Ibn ‘Asakir vol. 29 p. 9)
The first two of these beliefs are common features of Ithna ‘Ashari Shi‘ism, while the third one with its extremist overtones is more reminiscent of the Ghulat. We have already seen what Jafri has written about Ibn Saba’s role in the origin of the Ghulat. That particular aspect of Ibn Saba’s role finds further corroboration in the Shia biographical literature. Al Kashshi, for example, reports the following:
Hisham ibn Salim reports that Abu ‘Abdillah (Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq) told his companions the story of Ibn Saba, and his claims of divinity for Amir al Mu’minin. He said: When he made those claims Amir al Muminin asked him to repent. He refused to repent, so Amir al Mu’minin burnt him fire. (Ikhtiyar Ma‘`rifat ar-Rijal, vol. 1 p. 323)
Extremist tendencies like these were originally introduced by Ibn Saba. Before him no one, not even the little group of Sahabah like Abu Dharr and Salman al Farisi, whom the Shia look upon as the early Shia, ever made such claims, neither did any one of them ever speak ill of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar. This too, was invented by Ibn Saba.
Extremism did not die with the death of Ibn Saba. It persisted, and the centre of its activities, as Jafri tells us in The Origins and Early Development of Shia Islam (p. 300), was the city of Kufa. Here we stand before an interesting observation that was brought to light by Jafri. He writes:
There is another important point that must be discussed here briefly. A considerable number of traditions are to be found, especially in the earliest Shia collection of hadith, Al Kafi, which describe the Imams as supernatural human beings. What was the origin of these traditions, and to what extent are the Imams themselves responsible for them? These traditions are reported, as indeed are all Shia traditions, on the authority of one of the Imams, in this case from Al Baqir and Ja‘far. But were these Imams really the authors of such traditions, which describe their supernatural character? The first thing which must be noted in this connection is that while Al Baqir and Ja‘far themselves lived in Medina, most of their followers lived in Kufa. This fact brings us to a crucial problem. Kufa had long been a centre of ghulat speculations and activities. 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. According to the heresiographers, Ibn Saba was the first to preach the doctrine of waqf (refusal to recognise the death of ‘Ali) and the first to condemn the first two caliphs in addition to ‘Uthman. (Jafri, The Origins and Early Development of Shi‘a Islam, p. 300, Ansariyan Publications, Qum)
This same Kufa, which was the hotbed of Shia activities and ghulat tendencies, was also the home of the most prolific narrators of the hadith which the Shia ascribe to the Imams, and which are documented in their hadith compendiums such as al Kafi, Man La Yahduruhu al Faqih, Tahdhib al Ahkam and al Istibsar. Since it is upon this corpus of narrated material that the entire edifice of Shi‘ism rests, it would be of interest to see what kind of people were these men on whose authority it is narrated from the Imams.
Some of the most prolific narrators of the Shia are
- Zurarah ibn A`yan
- Muhammad ibn Muslim at-Ta’ifi
- Abu Basir Layth ibn al Bakhtari al Muradi
- Al Mufaddal ibn ‘Umar al Ju‘fi
All four of these men were from Kufah. Let us take a closer look at these men:
Zurarah ibn A‘yan
Sayed Bahr al ‘Ulum states that the family of A‘yan, of which Zurarah was a scion, was the largest Shia family of Kufa. (Rijal as-Sayed Bahr al ‘Ulum, a.k.a al Fawa’id ar-Rijaliyyah, vol. 1 p. 222)
Zurarah has always posed a problem in Shi‘ism, because while is on the one hand regarded as the most prolific narrator from the Imams al Baqir and as-Sadiq, the Imams are also recorded as having cursed and excommunicated him. The Shia attempt to reconcile these two contradictory attitudes through the dubious and completely unconvincing explanation of taqiyyah by the Imams.
Regarding the wealth of narrations which Zurarah reports, we are informed by al Kashshi that had it not been for Zurarah, the ahadith of al Baqir would have been lost. (Ikhtiyar Ma‘rifat ar-Rijal vol. 1 p. 345) Sayed Abul Qasim al Khu’i has counted 2094 of his narrations in the four books, all of them from the Imams al Baqir and as-Sadiq, (al Khu’i, Mu‘jam Rijal al Hadith vol. 7 p. 249)
On the other hand, al Kashshi records that Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq cursed Zurarah. The following quotation is but one of several places where his cursing of Zurarah is on record: By Allah, he has ascribed lies to me! By Allah, he has ascribed lies to me! By Allah, he has ascribed lies to me! May Allah curse Zurarah! May Allah curse Zurarah! May Allah curse Zurarah! (Ikhtiyar Ma‘`rifat ar-Rijal, vol. 1 p. 361) Despite Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq’s cursing of Zurarah, he is still accepted by the Shia as the most prolific and reliable authority for the ahadith of the Imams. He hails from Kufa, the centre of the successors of Ibn Saba; he is cursed by the Imam as Ibn Saba was cursed by Sayyidina ‘Ali; and yet he is respected as a trustworthy and reliable narrator of the ahadith which form the basis of Shi‘ism!
Muhammad ibn Muslim
Muhammad ibn Muslim is another Kufan narrator whose credentials as a narrator are extremely suspect, but who is accepted by the Shia as a reliable narrator all the same. This Muhammad ibn Mus, who claims to have heard 30 000 ahadith from Imam Muhammad al Baqir, and a further 16 000 from his son Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq (See Ikhtiyar Ma‘rifat ar-Rijal vol. 1 p. 391) is also recorded by al Kashshi to have been cursed by Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq (vol. 1 p. 394) just as Ibn Saba was cursed by his great-grandfather!
Abu Basir al Muradi
In Abu Basir we have another very prolific Kufan narrator whose character fails to convince anyone of his trustworthiness. He, together with Zurarah, is regarded of those who preserved the legacy of the Imams al Baqir and as-Sadiq. He is one of a very select group of narrators about whom it is said that “there is consensus amongst the Shia to accept what is authentically narrated from them.” (See al Mamaqani, Miqbas al Hidayah vol. 2 p. 171)
However, Mir Damad in his annotations to Rijal al Kashshi notes that the Shia hadith critic Abul Hussain ibn al Ghada’iri said of him:
Abu ‘Abdillah (Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq) used to get annoyed and upset with his presence, and his companions are in disagreement amongst themselves about him. I (Ibn al Ghada’iri) believe that he was cursed on account of (matters pertaining to) his religion, not his narrations. To me he is a trustworthy narrator. (Ikhtiyar Ma‘`rifat ar-Rijal, vol. 1 p. 397. See also al Ardabili, Jami‘ ar-Ruwat vol. 3 p. 43)
Again we have here a most prolific Kufan narrator who was cursed by Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq just like Ibn Saba was cursed by Sayyidina ‘Ali!
al Mufaddal ibn ‘Umar
Here we have another Kufan narrator who is regarded by eminent Shia hadith critics as a reliable transmitter of the Imams’ hadith. Al Ardabili in Jami‘ ar-Ruwat (vol. 2 p. 258) records that Shaykh Mufid mentioned al Mufaddal as belonging to the “inner circle, reliable and pious Fuqaha” of Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq’s followers. Abu Ja‘far at-Tusi too, is quoted as having mentioned al Mufaddal amongst the mamduhin (praiseworthy).
But Imam Ja‘far is recorded by al Kashshi to have addressed by calling him, “You Kafir! You Mushrik!” (See Ikhtiyar Ma‘rifat ar-Rijal vol. 2 p. 612) Another lengthier narration of al Kashshi runs as follows:
‘Abdullah ibn Miskan says: Hujr ibn Za’idah and ‘Amir ibn Judha‘ah al Azdi came to Abu ‘Abdillah [Imam Ja‘far] and told him: “May we be ransomed for you! Mufaddal says that you [the Imams] determine the sustenance of the people.” He [Imam Ja‘far said]: “By Allah, no one besides Allah determines our sustenance. One day I needed food for my family. I was under difficult circumstances and thought hard about it, until I managed to secure food for them. Only then did I feel content. May Allah curse him and disown him.” They asked: “Do you curse and disown him?” He replied: “Yes, so you too, curse him and disown him. May Allah and His messenger disown him.” (Ikhtiyar Ma‘rifat ar-Rijal vol. 2 p. 614)
The above narration clearly identifies al Mufaddal with the heresy originally introduced by Ibn Saba. In the biography of Ibn Saba given in al Kashshi’s Rijal, Imam al Baqir is reported to have stated that Ibn Saba claimed himself to be a prophet, and ‘Ali to be Allah (See Ikhtiyar Ma‘rifat ar-Rijal vol. 1 p. 323). If we return to al Mufaddal’s biography in the same book we find the following:
Al Kashshi says: The extremist Tayyarah mention in some of their books on the authority of al Mufaddal that he said: “Seventy prophets were killed with Abu Isma‘il, meaning Abul Khattab, each one of whom had seen and announced his prophethood.” [They also say] that he said: Twelve of us were admitted to the presence of Abu ‘Abdillah [Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq]. Abu ‘Abdillah started greeting each one of us, calling each of us by the name of a prophet. To some he said, “Peace be upon you, O Nuh.” To some he said, “Peace be upon you, O Ibrahim,” To last one he greeted he said, “Peace be upon you, O Yunus.” Then he said, “Do not distinguish between the Prophets.” (Ikhtiyar Ma‘rifat ar-Rijal vol. 2 p. 614)
This Mufaddal, whom al Kashshi says was of the extremist Khattabiyyah sect, the followers of Abul Khattab, whose beliefs derived directly from Ibn Saba himself—this Mufaddal is exonerated by contemporary Shia scholars such as Shaykh ‘Abdullah al Mamaqani, and Sayed Abul Qasim al Khu’I as a most reliable and trustworthy transmitter of the knowledge of the Imams. Al Mamaqani gives a lengthy explanation about what exactly constitutes ghuluww (See Tanqih al Maqal vol. 3 p. 240 and Miqbas al Hidayah vol. 2 p. 397) and concludes that the kind of things on account of which al Mufaddal was labelled as a ghali has since become of the undeniable tenets (daririyyat) of Shi‘ism.
We have used the above three narrators merely as a specimen of the men upon whose narrations the edifice of Shi‘ism rests. We consistently find disturbing points of resemblance between them and Ibn Saba. They are cursed by the Imams just as Ibn Saba was cursed by Sayyidina ‘Ali. Some of them held beliefs that are identical to Ibn Saba’s innovations. They hail from Kufa, which Jafri tells us was the stronghold of the Saba’iyyah.
Thus, after we have proven the historical existence of Ibn Saba, this investigation into the men responsible for the narration, or creation, of the hadith legacy of the Shia leads us to the unequivocal conclusion that what exists today as Shi‘ism, and specifically Twelver Shi‘ism, contains a substantial chunk of the original heresy of Ibn Saba. We therefore feel that we have quite convincing reasons to look upon ‘Abdullah ibn Saba as the Founder of Shi‘ism.
If this conclusion fails to find favour in Shia circles, that cannot be helped. Just as the concern of the Shia for Muslim unity in the face of the vicious enemies of Islam has never constituted an impediment for them to state exactly how and what they perceive the faith and practice of the Ahlus Sunnah to be, similarly, we feel that it is only fair if the Ahlus Sunnah too, can exercise the right to publish their viewpoint on the origin of Shi‘ism, without anyone, and least of all the Shia, demanding from them to consider the danger that poses to Muslim unity.
If the state of Iran and its diplomatic representatives in South Africa are sincere in their concern for Muslim unity, we suggest that they take a very serious look at the extent to which Shi‘ism is being propagated in South Africa, as well as the provenance of the funding that supports those missions. Only when you have proven your sincerity for the cause of Islam by removing that essential stumbling block would we feel that your protest against the publication of an article like Abdullah ibn Saba: the Founder of Shi‘ism deserves something more than a decisive dismissal.
Yours in the service of Islam