The murder of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu was a cause of many other difficulties, and it cast its shadow over the turbulent events that followed. Many factors contributed to the murder of ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu, including: prosperity and its impact on society; changes in the nature of society during his reign; the fact that ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu came after ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu; the departure of the senior Sahabah from Madinah; tribalism; the cessation of conquest; ignorant displays of piety; personal ambitions on them of some people; the conspiracy of those who were full of hate; careful preparation of a list of accusations against ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu; various ways and means that were used to stir up the people; and the role of ‘Abdullah Ibn Saba’ in the turmoil. These causes and reasons have been discussed in detail in my book Taysir al Karim al Mannan fi Sirat ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan.
The people loved ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu very much because of his good conduct, his closeness to the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam,the ahadith that praised him, and the fact that he married two of the Rasul ’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam daughters (which is why he was called Dhu al Nurayn).
He was one of the senior Sahabah who were given the glad tidings of paradise. He was subjected to injustice during his lifetime by some of the thugs; He could have put an end to them, but he refrained for fear of being the first one to shed the blood of the ummah of Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. His policy in dealing with the turmoil was based on forbearance, deliberation and justice. He prevented the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum from fighting the rebels and chose to protect the Muslims by giving his own life. Hence his killing was the cause of a great deal more turmoil, and his murder cast a shadow on the subsequent turbulent events.
His killing had a great impact on the Muslims. The Muslim society fractured as a result of this major event, and the people became divided. What may increase his status and prove his innocence of everything that was attributed to him is the attitude of the other Sahabah towards his murder. They were all agreed that he was innocent and that those who shed his blood should be punished, but they differed as to how that was to be achieved. This will be discussed below, but first we want to shed some light on the role of ‘Abdullah Ibn Saba’ in the turmoil in general.
The Saba’iyyah – fact or fiction?
The early scholars were unanimous in agreeing that the Saba’iyyah existed; there were no exceptions among them. A few modern scholars, most of whom are Shia, disagreed with that. They claimed that the Saba’iyyah were a product of the imagination of Saif Ibn ‘Umar al Tamimi. Some of the scholars of biography criticised Saif in the field of hadith narration, but the scholars regard him as acceptable in the field of historical reports.
Moreover, Ibn ‘Asakir narrated many reports that mention ‘Abdullah Ibn Saba’, and these reports do not include Saif ibn ‘Umar as one of the narrators. Al Albani ruled that some of these reports were sound in terms of their chains of narration.
These are in addition to the many reports narrated about Ibn Saba’ in the Shia books of sects, biographies and hadith, in which there is no mention of this Saif ibn ‘Umar at all.
Creating doubts about the existence of ‘Abdullah Ibn Saba’ began with two purposes: on the one hand, to deny the role of the Jewish element in planting the seeds of turmoil among the Muslims, and on the other hand, to point the finger of accusation against the Sahabah. The rogue elements attempted to tarnish the bright image of the Sahabah in the minds of Muslims, by claiming that the Sahabah caused the turmoil.
Some contemporary writers, all of whom were Rafidi Shia, followed in their footsteps and denied the existence of ‘Abdullah Ibn Saba’ for their own purposes. These failed attempts were aimed at proving that their sect had nothing to do with its real founder, contrary to the facts on which all earlier scholars, including the Shia, were agreed.
It is worth pointing out that those so-called Sunnis who denied the existence of ‘Abdullah Ibn Saba’ were among those who were influenced by, or studied under, the Orientalists. What level of shamelessness and ignorance have these people reached? His biography filled books of history and Muslim sects, his deeds were transmitted by narrators and his story was known throughout the Muslim world. The historians, scholars of hadith and authors of books on sects and groups, biography, literature and genealogy who discussed the Saba’iyyah were all unanimously agreed that the ‘Abdullah Ibn Saba’ who appears in accounts of the turmoil was a real historical character.
The reports of Ibn Saba’s role in the turmoil are not limited to Tarikh al Tabari and are not based only on the reports of Saif ibn ‘Umar al Tamimi contained therein; there are widespread reports in the narrations of earlier scholars and throughout the books that record the events of Islamic history and discuss the views of different sects during that period. However, the advantage that Imam al Tabari had over others is that he had more abundant material and more details.
Hence shedding doubts on these events without any evidence, on the grounds that ‘Abdullah Ibn Saba’ is only mentioned in reports via Saif ibn ‘Umar, even after it has been proven that he is mentioned in sound reports that do not include Saif ibn ‘Umar in their chains of narration, as we have mentioned above, only leads to rejecting all these reports and labelling those narrators and scholars as foolish people who are distorting the historical facts.
Since when does an academic methodology based on pure rational thinking form a basis for rejection, as opposed to texts and corroborating reports? Is this methodology based on overlooking and ignoring all the sources, both earlier and later, which prove that Ibn Saba’ was a real person?
Ibn Saba’ is mentioned in many books of Ahlus Sunnah, including the following:
He lampooned al Mukhtar Ibn Abi ‘Ubaid al Thaqafi and his supporters from Kufah, after he fled with the nobles of the tribes of Kufah to Basrah, by saying:
I bear witness that you are Saba’iyyah, and I am aware of you, O guardians of disbelief.
The Rafidi ideas started with the heretic ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’.
‘Abdullah ibn Saba’ was one of the extreme heretics; he was misguided and misled others.
‘Abdullah ibn Saba’ was one of the extreme heretics … he had followers who were called Saba’iyyah, who believed in the divinity of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu. ‘Ali burned them with fire during his khilafah.
Ibn Saba’ is also mentioned in the books of hadith criticism.
Al Kalbi, Muhammad ibn al Sa’ib al akhbari, was a Saba’i, one of the followers of ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’, one of those who said that ‘Ali did not die and that he will come back to this world before the Hour begins. If they saw a cloud, they would say: ‘The Amir al Mu’minin (meaning ‘Ali) is in it.
The books of genealogy also confirm that the Saba’i group is named after ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’, and that they are a group of extreme Rafidi. ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’ was originally from Yemen, a Jew who became a Muslim outwardly.
The Shia sources which mention ibn Saba’ include the following:
Sa’d ibn ‘Abdullah told me: Ya’qub ibn Yazid and Muhammad ibn ‘Isa told me, from ‘Ali ibn Mahziyar, from Faddalah ibn Ayyob al Azdi, that Aban ibn ‘Uthman said: “I heard Abu ‘Abdullah say: ‘May Allah curse ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’, for he claimed that (‘Ali) was divine, but by Allah, (‘Ali) was an obedient slave. Woe to the one who tells lies about us. If people say of us things that we do not say about ourselves, we disavow ourselves of them before Allah.”
The chain of narration of this report is sound.
In his book, Dr. Sulaiman al ‘Awdah mentioned a number of texts with which the Shia books are filled, and their reports from ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’, which are more akin to recorded documents that condemn anyone among the later Shia who tries to deny the existence of ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’ or shed doubt on the reports that refer to him on the basis of paucity or weakness of the reports.
Ibn Saba’ was an actual historical figure, concerning whom there is no confusion in either the Sunni or Shia sources, earlier or later. This is also the view of most of the Orientalists such as Julius Wellhausen, Van Fulton, and Levi dela Vida, Goldziher, Ronald Nicholson, and Dwight Donaldson. For a few orientalists such as Caetani and Bernard Lewis, Ibn Saba’ remains a doubtful figure or no more than a myth; Friedländer remains uncertain. However we should remember that we do not rely on these authors with regard to our history.
The one who studies these sources, ancient and modern, Sunni and Shia, will be certain that ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’ really existed and that his existence is supported by the historical reports. The books of ‘aqidah, hadith, biography, genealogy, literature and language also mention him a great deal. This idea was accepted by modern scholars and researchers. It seems that the first ones to shed doubt on the existence of ibn Saba’ were some of the Orientalists; then this doubt was shared by the majority of modern Shia, and some of them denied his existence altogether. Among modern Arab researchers, there were some who admired the ideas of the Orientalists and were influenced by the books of the modern Shia. Nevertheless, none of them has anything to support the suspicions and denials except doubt itself, which is based on whims and desires, speculations and assumptions.
Whoever wishes to find out more about the Sunni, Orientalist and Shia references which mention ibn Saba’ may refer to Tahqiq Mawaqif al Sahabah fi l-Fitnah by Dr. Muhammad Amhazon and ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’ wa Atharuhu fi Ihdath al Fitnah fi Sadr al Islam by Dr. Sulaiman ibn Hamad al ‘Awdah.
In the last years of ‘Uthman’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu khilafah, signs of trouble in the Muslim society began to loom on the horizon, due to the changes that we have listed previously. Some of the Jews seized this opportunity to stir up trouble, by using the tactic of taqiyyah and pretending to be Muslim. Among them was ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’, who is also known as ibn al Sauda’.
We should not exaggerate his role in the fitnah, as some have done, but we should not cast doubts on it either, or discount the role that he played. His role was only one of several factors, but it was the most prominent and the most dangerous. The atmosphere of turmoil paved the way for him, but there were other factors that helped him too. All that ibn Saba’ did was to spread views and beliefs that he fabricated himself.
They reflected his hateful nature, and he propagated them for his own purposes, namely to introduce new ideas into the Muslim society in order to destroy its unity and stir up unrest. He planted seeds of division among the people, and that was one of several factors that led to the murder of the khalifah ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu and the division of the ummah into factions and parties.
To summarise what he did, he began quoting correct ideas, but then he leapt to wrong conclusions that found acceptance among the simple-minded, the extremists and those who were swayed by whims and desires. He followed convoluted ways whereby he deceived those who gathered around him. He started quoting Qur’an and misinterpreting it in accordance with his false claims, like when he said:
It is strange that people believe that ‘Isa is coming back, but they do not accept that Muhammad is coming back, when Allah says:
اِنَّ الَّذِیْ فَرَضَ عَلَیْكَ الْقُرْاٰنَ لَرَآدُّكَ اِلٰی مَعَادٍ
Verily, He Who has given you (O Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) the Qur’an (i.e. Ordered you to act on its laws and to preach it to others) will surely, bring you back to Ma’ad (place of Return)).And Muhammad is more deserving of coming back than ‘Isa ‘alayh al Salam.
He also resorted to false analogy in trying to claim that ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu was the rightful heir appointed by Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam to succeed him, he said:
There were one thousand messengers, and each messenger had a rightfully appointed heir, and ‘Ali was the rightfully appointed heir of Muhammad.
Then he said:
Muhammad was the seal of the prophets, and ‘Ali was the seal of the heirs.
When these ideas had become entrenched in the hearts of his followers, he moved on to his ultimate aim, which was to make the people rebel against the khalifah ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu. That happened to coincide with the whims and desires of some of the people when he said to them:
Who does more wrong than the one who did not fulfil the final wishes of the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, who pushed aside ‘Ali, the rightfully appointed successor of the Rasul of Allah and took control of the ummah?
After that, he told them:
‘Uthman took it unlawfully; here is the rightfully appointed successor of the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Get up and do something about it. Start by criticising your governors, and pretend that you are enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil, so that people will be inclined towards you, and call them to this matter.
He sent out his agents, and he wrote to people in the regions, who were corrupted by his ideas; they wrote to him and propagated their views in secret, pretending to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil. They started writing to people in the regions, mentioning the faults of their governors, and they corresponded with their counter parts in other regions, telling them what they were doing. They spread their false propaganda all over, aiming for something other than what they appeared to be seeking; they even sent letters to Madinah. The people in the regions said:
We are free of what others are suffering from,” but the people of Madinah received letters from all over and said: “We are better off than the rest of the people.
From this, we can see the methods followed by ibn Saba’. He wanted to give the impression that there was a rift between two of the senior Sahabah by showing that one of them, ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu had been deprived of his rights, whereas the other, ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu, was a usurper.
Next, he tried to stir up the people against their governors, especially in Kufah, in the name of enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil, as a result they started revolting against their governors for the slightest reasons. He focused on the Bedouins in this campaign, because he found in them suitable material for carrying out his plan. He gained the support of the religious people among them by using the idea of enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil.
He gained the support of those who had worldly ambitions by means of false rumours against ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu, such as the claim that he was biased in favour of his relatives and was spending money from the public treasury of the Muslims on them, that he had allocated grazing land for himself only, and other accusations and criticisms by means of which ibn Saba’ managed to rally the thugs against ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
Then he started inciting his followers to send letters relaying terrible news about their cities to people in other provinces, so that people in all regions would think that the situation everywhere had gotten so bad that it could not get any worse. Those who benefited from this situation were the Saba’iyyah, because when the people believed their propaganda, they would be able to light the spark of fitnah in the Muslim society.
‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu realised that there were plots in other provinces, and that the ummah was facing a bad time. He said: “By Allah, the millstone (of fitnah) will soon start turning, and it will be better for ‘Uthman if he dies and does not set it in motion.”
The place where ibn Saba’ found his niche was in Egypt. He started organising his campaign against ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu there; urging the people to go to Madinah and stir up unrest on the premise that ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu had become khalifah unlawfully by snatching it from ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, who was the true heir of the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
He deceived them by means of letters that he claimed to have received from the senior Sahabah, inciting the people against ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
However, when the Bedouins came to Madinah and met with the Sahabah, they denied writing the letters that had been attributed to them, and the Bedouins did not receive any encouragement from them. They found that ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu paid attention to the rights of others, and he debated with them concerning the accusations against him.
He refuted their lies and explained that these deeds were based on sincere intentions, until one of these Bedouins, Malik ibn al Ashtar al Nakha’i, said:
Perhaps it is a plot that has been drawn up against him and you.
Al Dhahabi is of the view that ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’ started the fitnah in Egypt, where he planted the seeds of grudges and criticism against the governors first, then against the ruler ‘Uthman.
Ibn Saba’ was not alone; his agents were at work among the network of conspirators, using their craftiness and trickery to recruit the Bedouins, the religious people among them and others. ibn Kathir narrated that among the causes of the incitement against ‘Uthman radiya Llahu ‘anhu was the emergence of ibn Saba’, who went to Egypt and spread rumours among the people that he fabricated himself, by which many people in Egypt were deceived.
The famous historians and scholars of both the earlier and later generations of this ummah are agreed that ibn Saba’ appeared among the Muslims with ideas, plans and plots aimed at diverting the Muslims from their faith and from obeying their ruler, and spreading division and disputes among them. The thugs rallied around him, leading to the formation of the Saba’iyyah group, which was one of the factors in the fitnah that ended with the murder of the Khalifah ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan radiya Llahu ‘anhu.
It seems that the Saba’iyyah plots were very well organized. They were very skilled in directing their ‘missionaries’ and spreading their ideas, because they had the means of propaganda to influence the thugs and dregs of society. They were also active in forming branches in Basrah, Kufah and Egypt, exploiting tribal sentiments and exploiting the weaknesses of the Bedouins, slaves and freed slaves, based on knowledge of what they wanted to hear.
 Al Sallabi: ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, p. 311-340
 The one with the two lights [Editor].
 ‘Awdah: Da’wat al Inqadh li al Tarikh al Islami, in which he refers to the chains of narration mentioned by al Albani.
 His name was ‘Abdul Rahman ibn ‘Abdullah ibn al Harith al Hamadan, who was known as Aisha Hamadan.
 Diwan ‘Aisha Hamadan, p. 148.
 Tarikh Dimashq, by Ibn ‘Asakir, 9/331
 Tarikh Baghdad, 2/277
 Al ’Awdah: ‘Abdullah Ibn Saba’, p. 53; Ibn Habib: al Muhbar, p. 308
 Tadhkirat al Huffaz; 2/551; Shadharat al Dhahab, 2/129
 Wafiyat al A’yan, 3/470
 Al Bayan wa al Tabyin, 3/81
 ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’ by al ‘Awdah, p. 53
 Majmu’ al Fatawa, 28/483
 Al Dhahabi: Mizan al I’tidal, 2/462
 Ibn Hajar: Lisan al Mizan; 3/360
 Abu Hatim: al Mujruhin min al Muhaddithin, 2/253
 Ibn Taymiyah: Majmu’ al Fatawa, 4/435
 Ibrahim ibn Musa, Muhammad al Gharnadi, d. 790 AH
 Abu Ishaq al Lakhmi: al I’tisam, 2/197
 Appointed heir, The Shia use this term for ‘Ali, claiming that Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam appointed him to be his successor, so ‘Ali was his true heir. [Editor]
 Al Maqrizi: al Mawa’idh wa l-I’tibar bi Dhikr al Khutat wa l-Athar, 2/256,257
 Rijal al Kashi, 1/324
 Muhammad ‘Ali al Mu’allim: ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’-al Haqiqah al Majhulah, p. 30.
 Sulaiman al ‘Awdah: ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’ p. 62
 Julius Wellhausen: The Kharijis and the Shia, p. 170
 Van Fulton: al Siyadah al ‘Arabiyyah wa al Shia wa l-Isra’iliyyat, p. 80.
 Goldziher: al ‘Aqidah wa al Shari’ah al Islamiyyah, p. 229
 Tarikh al ‘Arab al Adabi fi l-Jahiliyyah (Literary History of the Arabs during the Jahiliyyah and early Islam), p. 235
 ‘Aqa’id ash-Shi’ah, p. 58
 Usul al Isma‘iliyyah. (Origins of Ismailism), p. 86
 Such as Sa’id al Afghani in his book ‘Aisha wa al Siyasah
 Surah al Qasas: 85
 Tarikh al Tabari, 5/347
 op. cit., 5/348
 Tarikh al Tabari, 5/250
 al Bidayah wa al Nihayah, 7/167, 168Back to top