“He was a Jew of Yemen, Arabia, of the seventh century, who settled in Medina and embraced Islam. Having adversely criticised Caliph ʿUthmān’s administration, he was banished from the town. Thence he went to Egypt, where he founded an anti-ʿUthmānian sect, to promote the interests of ʿAlī. 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, Muḥammed’s vizier was ʿAlī, who had therefore been kept out of the caliphate by deceit. ʿUthmān had no legal claim whatsoever to the caliphate; and the general dissatisfaction with his government greatly contributed to the spread of ʿAbdullāh bin Sabaʾ’s teachings. Tradition relates that when ʿAlī had assumed power, ʿAbdullāh bin Sabaʾ ascribed divine honours to him by addressing him with the words, “Thou art Thou!” Thereupon ʿAlī banished him to Median. After ʿAlī’s assassination ʿAbdullāh is said to have taught that ʿAlī was not dead but 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. Till then the divine character of ʿAlī was to remain hidden in the imāms, 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. The attribution of divine honours to ʿAlī was probably a later development, and was fostered by the circumstance that in the Qurʾān Allāh is often styled “al-ʿAlīy” (The Most High).” (the Jewish Encyclopaedia 1.43);

Statements from Ahl al-Sunnah on ʿAbdullāh bin Sabaʾ

  • Al-Ṭabarī (d.310 AH) said, “Ibn Sabaʾ was a Jew from Sana, Yemen.” [al-Ṭabarī, Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr. Tārīkh al-Rusūl wa al-Mulūk. Beirut, Lebanon: Dār Ṣādir (1965-1967) vol.4, pp.340]
  • Ibn Asākīr (d.255 AH) said, “His origin is from the people of Yemen and he was a Jew who dressed in Islam.” [Ibn Asākir, ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥasan, Tārīkh Madīna-Damishq. Beirut, Lebanon. Dār al Fikr (1987) vol.29, p.408]
  • Ibn al-Athīr said, “‘Abdullāh bin Sabaʾ was a Jew from the people of Sana, Yemen and his mother was black.” [Ibn al-Athīr, Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī ʿIzz al-Dīn, al-Kāmil fī al-Tārīkh. Beirut, Lebanon Dar Ṣādir – (1965-1967) vol.3 p.77]
  • al-Ṭabarī, Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr (d. 310 AH) said, “‘Abdullāh bin Sabaʾ embarked upon [the Companion] Abū Ḍarḍāh who said to him, “Who are you? By Allāh, I suspected you to be a Jew.” [al-Ṭabarī, Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr, Tārīkh al-Rusūl wa al-Mulūk. Beirut, Lebanon: Dār Ṣādir (1965-1967) vol.4, pp.456]
  • Ibn Kathīr (d.729 AH) said, “…and from them was Ibn al-Sawdá [the black one] and he was from those disbelievers who had a covenant with the muslims, so he appeared as a muslim and introduced statements and actions of innovations. May Allāh destroy him.” [Ibn Kathīr, Ismāʿīl ibn ʿUmar, al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah. Beirut, Lebanon: Maktabat al-Maʿārif (1966) vol. 7 pp.181]
  • Ibn Taymiyah (d. 728 AH) said, “And the people of knowledge have mentioned that the head of the Rāfīḍa is from the Heretic ʿAbdullāh bin Sabaʾ; for he manifested Islam and while he hid his Judaism and he sought to cause corruption in Islam just like Paul the Christian, who was a Jew who caused corruption in the religion of the Christians.” [Ibn Taymiyah, Taqī al-Dīn Abū al-ʿAbbās,  Majmūʿ al-Fatāwà. Riyadh, KSA: Markaz al-Turāth lil-Barmajīyāt (2012) vol. 28 pp.483]
  • Ibn al-ʿIzz al-Ḥanafī (d. 731 AH) said, “The foundations of rafḍ began from a heretic and hypocrite who intended to bring falsehood into Islam and to bring insult to the Messenger as the scholars have mentioned. ʿAbdullah bin Sabaʾ when he manifested Islam, he sought to cause corruption in the religion of Islam by plotting and vileness just as what Paul did with the Christian religion. First he manifested piety and then manifested enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, until he was involved in the chaos during the reign of ʿUthmān and his killing. Then when he entered Kūfa he manifested extremism for ʿAlī and supporting him to gain from it necessities and this was made clear to ʿAlī so he sought his killing and fought him to qarqīs and the narrations of that are known in History.” Thus from this man whom the people of sunnah have criticized; and from this group stemmed the Rawāfiḍ Shīʿa. [Ibn al-ʿIzz, ʿAlī ibn ʿAlī, Sharḥ al-Ṭahāwīyah fī al-ʿAqīdah al-Salafīyah. Damascus, Syria: al-Maktab al-Islāmī (1984) pp.490]
  • ʻAbd al-Qāhir al-Baghdādī said, “and Ibn al-Sawdá – meaning ʿAbdullāh bin Sabaʾ, was a Jew.” [al-Baghdādī, ʻAbd-al-Qāhir Ibn-Ṭāhir, al-Farq Baynā al-Firaq. Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Maʿrifah, 1977) pp.235]

Statements of the People of the Shīʿa on ʿAbdullah bin Sabaʾ:

  • Al-Nawbakhtī (d. 300 AH) said, “Some of the people of knowledge from the companions of ʿAlī narrated that ʿAbdullah bin Sabaʾ was a Jew who embraced Islam.” [al-Nawbakhtī, Ḥasan ibn Mūsá, Firqa al-Shīʿah. Beirut, Lebanon: Dār al-Maʿrifah, (1977) pp.22]
  • Al-Qūmī (d. 301 AH) said, “He is ʿAbdullah bin Sabaʾ, whose names was ʿAbdullāh  ibn Wahb al-Rāsibī al-Hamadānī… He was the first to openly slander Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, ʿUthmān and the companions.” [al-Qūmī, Saʿd ibn ʿAbdullah, al-Muqālat wa al-Firq. Tehran, Iran: Dār al-Maʿrifah, (1963) pp.20]
  • Al-Māmaqānī (d. 310 AH) said, “ʿAbdullāh bin Sabaʾ is the one who returned to disbelief and showed signs of extremism. He was an accursed extremist who was burnt with the fire by ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib. It was he who used to claim that ʿAlī was Allāh and he was a Prophet.” [Tanqīh al-Maqāl fi Ilm al-Rijīl 2/183,184]