'Abd Allah b. Saba' wa asatir ukhra (book)

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'Abd Allah b. Saba' wa asatir ukhra (book)
کتاب عبدالله بن سبا.jpg
AuthorSayyid Murtada 'Askari
Original titleعَبْدالله بن سَبَأ وَ أساطیر أُخْری
Series2 vol.
PublisherKuliyya Usul al-Din (Usul al-Din University)
English translation
En. titleAbdullah Ibn Saba' and Other Myths
En. publisherWorld Organization for Islamic Services (WOFIS)
En. full textal-islam.org

ʿAbd Allāh b. Sabaʾ wa asāṭīr ukhrā (Arabic: عَبْدالله بن سَبَأ وَ أساطیر أُخْری, literally: 'Abd Allah b. Saba' and other myths) is an Arabic book in two volumes written by Sayyid Murtada 'Askari. The book is a historical biographical research concerning hadiths transmitted by a person called Sayf b. 'Umar. According to the author, Sayf has fabricated many myths, including the myth of 'Abd Allah b. Saba'.

Some opponents of Shiism believe that Shiism was invented by a person called "'Abd Allah b. Saba'". The book tries to reject this claim. The author has appealed to early historical sources (before 500/1106) and compared Sayf's hadiths with other hadiths to show that his hadiths are fabricated. The title of the book was originally supposed to be "Ahadith Sayf" (Sayf's hadiths), but at the suggestion of Shaykh Radi Al Yasin (the author of Sulh al-Hasan), the title was changed to 'Abd Allah b. Saba' wa asatir ukhra. The book was translated into Persian under 'Abd Allah b. Saba' wa digar afsani-hayi tarikhi ('Abd Allah b. Saba' and other historical myths).

The Author

Sayyid Murtada Sharif 'Askari, known as 'Allama 'Askari (1332-1428/1914-2007) was a biographer of the Prophet (s) and the Imams (a), an expert in the history of Islam, and an Iranian Shiite scholar in the Islamic Seminary of Samarra. 'Askari tried to do scholarly research on the history of Islam. His important works include Khamasun wa mi'a sahabi mukhtalaq and al-Tawassul bi l-nabi (s) wa l-tabarruk bi atharih. He was a member of the higher council of Ahl al-Bayt (a) World Assembly and a politically active clergy against the Ba'ath regime in Iraq. He was a member of the main body of Hizb al-Da'wat al-Islamiyya for a long time.

Motivation for Writing

When he encountered some hadiths in well-known and old historical sources, the author found evidence that those hadiths were fabricated. He decided to collect those hadiths and compare them with other hadiths. As a result, he learned about a truth which used to be ignored throughout the Islamic history. At first, he feared to publish the book, because it revealed the unreliability of many sources of the Islamic history, and thus, he asked people who believe in the standard history the way some old women believe in superstitions not to read the book, because the unreliability of historical sources is not limited to the story of 'Abd Allah b. Saba'.

Contents of the First Volume

The Myth of 'Abd Allah b. Saba'

The first volume of the book begins with the story of 'Abd Allah b. Saba'. Here is the story according to the author: a Jewish person from Sana'a in Yemen converted to Islam during the Caliphate of 'Uthman b. 'Affan. He traveled to important Islamic cities and told people that Muhammad (s) would return after his demise and 'Ali (a) was his successor whose position has been unjustly occupied by 'Uthman. Thus, it was obligatory to fight 'Uthman in order to give the position back to the right person. He sent representatives to Islamic territories and was followed by some people, including some prominent people such as Abu Dhar, 'Ammar b. Yasir, and Malik al-Ashtar. And the murder of 'Uthman was encouraged by the followers of Ibn Saba' (known as "Saba'iyyun").

Origin of the Myth

The author tried to track the origins of the myth of 'Abd Allah b. Saba' by consulting early and later sources and hadiths. He came to the conclusion that the story was transmitted only through four sources: Tarikh al-umam wa l-muluk (al-Tabari, 310/922-3), Tarikh Madina Dimashq (Ibn 'Asakir, 571/1175-6), al-Tamhid wa l-bayan fi maqtal al-shahid 'Uthman b. 'Affan (Ibn Abi Bakr, 741/1340-1), Tarikh al-Islam (al-Dhahabi, 748/1347-8). All these sources have transmitted the story from a person called "Sayf b. 'Umar".

Sayf b. 'Umar

The author went on to introduce Sayf b. 'Umar (al-Tamimi al-Usayyidi, originally from Kufa, who died between 170/786 and 193/808) and investigated the value of hadiths he transmitted in accordance with prominent scholars of history and rijal from Yahya b. Mu'in (233/847) to Ibn Hajar (852/1448). They all have characterized Sayf as unreliable and liar and maintained that his transmitted hadiths should be ignored. According to these scholars, Sayf was accused of being a Zindiq.

Examination of Sayf b. 'Umar's Hadiths

The author went on to examine Sayf's hadiths through their main sources, particularly Tarikh al-Tabari. He compared these hadiths with the ones transmitted by reliable people to show, firstly, how influential Sayf is in the sources of the Islamic history; secondly, how valuable his hadiths are, and thirdly, how neutral or impartial Sayf is with respect to historical events.

At the end of the first volume, the author concludes that the reason why Sayf's fabricated hadiths, rather than reliable hadiths, have been received by Muslims was that his hadiths matched what the majority of Muslims "wished" to have happened, not what really happened.

Contents of the Second Volume

Sayf's Motivation for Hadith Forgery

In his introduction to the second volume of the book, the author said that he initially thought that Sayf's motivation for hadith forgery was merely to defend prominent Sahaba and humiliate their opponents, but he finally came to the conclusion that he had two motivations:

  1. Tribal bias in order to praise 'Adnanites and humiliate Qahtanites.
  2. Sayf did not believe in Islam, and thus, he tried to distort the truths of the Islamic history and introduce myths into Islamic beliefs.

Other Myths Fabricated by Sayf

The author went on to investigate other myths fabricated by Sayf, such as the spread of Islam by the force of sword and blood, irtidad (apostasy) of people in Oman and Yemen, some fictional conquests, distortions of people's names, and the like comparing them with other hadiths. In the second half of the second volume, the author returns to the story of 'Abd Allah b. Saba', investigating his character in books of hadith and al-milal wa al-nihal (creeds and sects).

Saba'iyya and Ibn Saba'

The author said about the truth of Saba'iyya and Ibn Saba' that Saba'iyya implies an attribution to Yemeni tribes from the progeny of Saba' b. Yashjub b. Ya'rub b. Qahtan. Thus, "Saba'iyya" is equivalent to the Qahtanite. Many transmitters of hadiths in Sunni Sihah have been known as "Saba'i" until the middle of the 3rd/9th century. The title was then offensively used to refer to some companions of Imam 'Ali (a) and the followers of Mukhtar who were from Saba'i tribes. It eventually came to be used to refer to all the Shi'a of Imam 'Ali (a). After that, the myth of 'Abd Allah b. Saba' was fabricated by Sayf b. 'Umar and it was then cited by al-Tabari and other historians through him. The word, "Saba'i", was then used to refer to a religious sect and the implication of attribution to Saba'i tribes was totally forgotten. The author believes that 'Abd Allah b. Saba' was the same person as 'Abd Allah b. Wahab al-Saba'i who was a head of Khawarij in Nahrawan.

Publications and Translations

English version of the book

The book was originally published in Arabic in two volumes in 1375/1955-6 in Najaf. It was later published with addenda in Cairo in 1381/1961, and then in Beirut in 1388/1968-9. But none of the three publications was supervised by the author and they thus contained some mistakes. The book was published for the fourth time in Beirut in 1393/1973-4 with the author's corrections and addenda.

The book has been translated into English, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish. The book was translated into Persian in 1964-5 by Ahmad Fihri Zanjani, Muhammad Sadiq Najafi, and Hashim Harisi, which was published by Majma'-i 'Ilmi-yi Islami (Islamic Scholarly Assembly) Publications as well as Usul al-Din University. The book was translated into English by M. J. Muqaddas and published by World Organization for Islamic Services (WOFIS) in 1978.

Feedback of the Book

Soon after its publication, the book, 'Abd Allah b. Saba' , found its supporters and opponents. In his preface to the third edition of the book, the author pointed to some objections and replied to them. Some professors of Saudi universities wrote comments on the book and published them in Saudi newspapers. The comments as well as 'Allama 'Askari's replies to them have been collected and published in Ara' wa asda' hawl 'Abd Allah b. Saba' wa riwayat Sayf fi l-suhuf al-Sa'udiyya (comments concerning 'Abd Allah b. Saba' and Sayf's hadiths in Saudi newspapers).