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Abdallah Ibn Sabāʾ


ABDALLAH IBN SABĀ ʾ (also called Ibn al-Sawdā ; seventh century), supposedly a Jew of south Arabian origin, and regarded as the founder of the Shiʿite sect (one of the two main branches of Islam) shortly after Muhammad's death. The reports by Arab historians concerning his role are contradictory and perhaps reflect the tendency to charge a Jew with partial responsibility for the internal feuds of the Islamic community. Abdallah asserted that Muhammad is the Messiah, who will appear a second time. Meanwhile, ʿAlī, the son-in-law of Muhammad, is his representative. After the assassination of ʿAlī (661), Abdallah allegedly denied that ʿAlī had died, asserting that the slain man was a demon who had taken on ʿAlī's features; ʿAlī himself was hiding among the clouds, and would return to earth later to establish the Kingdom of Justice. The doctrine that not ʿAlī, but someone of similar appearance, had been murdered, has its precedent in the teachings of a Christian sect which denied the crucifixion of Jesus, a belief which persists in the Christology of the *Koran (Sūra 4: 156). But the messianic concepts ascribed to Abdallah show traces of Jewish (two Messiahs) and Christian origin and differ from the messianic concepts which became generally recognized within the Shiʿa. In these, the Messiah (who was identical not with ʿAlī himself, but with one of his descendants) was hiding in a mountain in the vicinity of *Kūfa (in Iraq).


Friedlaender, in: za, 23 (1909), 296–327; 24 (1910), 1–46; Levi della Vida, in: rso, 6 (1913), 504; C. van Arendonk, De Opkomst van het Zaidietsche Imamaat. (1919), 7; Hirschberg, in: Vienna Jewish Theological Seminary Memorial Volume (1946), 122–3; eis2, 1 (1960), 51 (includes bibliography).

[Josef Horovitz]

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