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Origin of the name of Sabaʾiyya

 Groups of rebellious Muslim militants marched from Iraq and Egypt, and invaded Al Madinah (the city of the prophet PBUH) and killed the Caliph Uthmaan. The Muslims (Arabs at that time) called those invaders by the name of (Sabaʾiyya).

a. Why they were called Sabaʾiyya according to narrators?

The later narrators who wrote about Sabaʾiyya were ignorant of the meaning of the name (Sabaʾiyya), because its ancient Arabic verb (saba') has died and is no longer used by later Arabs. The narrators wrongly thought that those who invaded Al Madinah and killed the Caliph were called Sabaʾiyya, because they followed a leader called (Ibn saba').

 So, in order to explain the name (Sabaʾiyya), the narrators have now invented a man called (Ibn saba'). But The narrators actually did nothing except explaining "the meaning of water" by the same word "water". We still don’t know the meaning of the Arabic root "saba'" that made the name Sabaʾiyya or ibn saba'.


b. another opinion

Sabaic Dictionary (English-French-Arabic), by AFL Beeston,‎ MA Ghul, page 122:

Arabs at the time of Caliph Uthmaan called those groups of militants (who came from outside of AL Madinah and killed Caliph Uthmaan) by the name Sabaʾiyya, because they invaded Madinah. The verb (saba') was a very common and popular ancient Arabic verb used before Islam by the Arabic tongue of Himyar (Yemen). Himyarite ancient pre-Islamic inscriptions are filled with this verb (saba'). This ancient Arabic verb (saba') means (to invade, to march to, to travel, ...). So, because those outside groups invaded Al Madinah and marched toward it to do an act, they were called Sabaʾiyya (Invaders) by those Arabs who exsited during the Caliph Uthmaan's time. Sabaʾiyya is from the Arabic verb (saba'= to invade).

But that ancient Arabic verb (saba') didn’t survive long after Islam, and later Arabs (few decades after Uthmaan's death) were no longer using it (that’s why we don’t find it recorded as a verb in early Arabic dictionaries). But the name of those invaders (Sabaʾiyya), even its meaning is lost, was still remembered by people and didn’t disappear. This is like the names of many places which we still remember, but we can't explain the meanings of those names.

Note: only the verb saba' is gone, but some words derived from it like "masba'" (road), or "suba't" (long travel) still exist in early Arab dictionaries, and their meaning is the same as used by the pre Islamic Himyarite inscriptions.



How did the name (Ibn Saba) appear?

[The Arabs say: son of a thing), and (father of a thing), if he is belonging to that thing, and is bound to it/ Sharh Diwan Abi al-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi: Mujiz Ahmad - Abul 'Ala' Al-Ma'arri]. What Al-Ma'arri said also said by many Arabic language scholars.

[العرب يقولون: فلان (ابن كذا) وأبو كذا إذا كان من أهله، وملازماً له/ معجز أحمد - المعري]

To repeat what Al-Ma'arri said above in another way, this means that old Arabs will call you (son of that thing) if you belong to that thing or linked to it, and they don’t mean by that thing your human father. For example, you will be called (son of war) if you are always engaging in wars, you will be called (son of sport) if you are always engaging in sports or (son of sadness) if you are always sad, and so on.

The most famous example is mentioned in Quran which is the name (Ibn assabeel) or (Ibn As-Sabil): وَآتِ ذَا الْقُرْبَى حَقَّهُ وَالْمِسْكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ (26) الإسراء

Wa aati zal qurbaa haqqahoo walmiskeena wabnas sabeeli

Ibn as-sabīl means (son of the road) or (wanderer, traveler, wayfarer).

And the most famous man who is called son of his situation was the Jewish name (Yusha ibn Nun) or (Joshua). The servant of Moses (ibn nun) or (son of Nun) which means (son of fish), was called like that because he forgot the nun or fish, as Quran told about him: {فَإِنِّي نَسِيتُ الْحُوتَ (63)} [الكهف], (fa-innee naseetu alhoota) Surah Al-Kahf [18:63], meaning: (I forgot the fish). The word (alhoota) in the verse (al-hoot) or (hoot) in Arabic means fish. And Jewish word (nun) means fish. Nun is also an Arabic word mentioned in Quran Surah 21. Al-Anbiyaa, Ayah 87 [Watha annooni], this is the name of  the prophet Yunus (Zun-nun) or (Dhun Nun), because he was swallowed by a (hoot) or (nun).

Another example is the famous scholar "Ibn Hajar" or (son of stone), named for the quality of his mind, And strength of his opinion. There are hundreds of Arabic examples of such names, but the translation to English will be tedious and not obvious.

Ibn Saba' got his name in the same manner like above examples. He is linked to his deed or act from verb (Saba') which means (to invade, to march to). That’s because his group invaded or marched in war toward Al Madinah.



Meaning of the name (Ibn Saba)

The term "Sabaʾiyya " means "invaders". The people described the (Sabaʾiyya) (by what they did) and attributed them to what they did. And what they did is that they invaded (dead Arabic verb: Saba') Al Madinah. Verb (Saba') in the Arabic Himyarite tongue meaning (invade, march to, attack, travel, ...). Sabaʾiyya are named after their act (verb Saba'), like another name Khawarij or Kharijites (because of their act from the Arabic verb (kharaja) which meant (come out against the Caliph, revolt against him). Or like name Muʿtazila or Muʿtazilites  (al-muʿtazilah) from verb (iʿtazala) which means "to separate (oneself); to withdraw from". Or like name Rafidah (Rafida, ar-Rāfiḍa, Raāfiḍa) meaning "rejectors", "rejectionists", "those who reject" or "those who refuse". The word is derived from the Arabic verb (rafada) means "to reject". Or like name (Shia, Shīʿah), from Shīʻatu ʻAlī, "followers of Ali") from verb (shayʻa) means (to follow or help, support). Or like the name Sahaba (aṣ-ṣaḥābah ) from verb (sahaba) means to "accompany", "keep company with", "associate with" (the prophet). And so on.

After the old Arabs called that group Sabaʾiyya from their act (verb Saba'), then the later narrators wanted to represent the Sabaʾiyya by one man (leader), and through the way of calling someone as (son of his doing/ son of his act), they derived from the name of the (Sabaʾiyya) the name of (Ibn Saba') meaning (son of Saba') or (son of invasion) or invader.


Is there only one man named Ibn Saba?

Sabaʾiyya are real historical group (they are the invaders of AL Madinah during the caliphate of Uthmaan, also they are any other later group who invade, raise the sword and go against the authorities). Sabaʾiyya name, as we mentioned, is linguistically from the Himyarite verb (Saba') which means (to invade). The famous Arabic name (ibn Saba') or (son of Saba') does not actually mean a specific unique individual (I.e. only one man, like their leader) as the narrators are claiming. The name (ibn Saba') can represents anyone who invaded AL Madinah. But the narrators for the sake of simplification, represented the invaders (Sabaʾiyya) by only one specific person which they named him (Ibn Saba') or (son of Saba'), and they made him the leader of  Sabaʾiyya (as they also represented the Kharijites by the person of "Dhul-Khuwaisarah" or "Dhu Ath-Thudayyah"). Or because the narators wanted to make the devil (Satan, jinn) appear in the image of one man (Ibn Saba). Narrators did the same thing before as they made the devil appear as a (Najdi sheikh) in Dār al-Nadwa in Mecca (during the conspiracy of Quraysh chiefs to kill the prophet). Narrators also made the leader of the kharjites "Dhu Ath-Thudayyah" from the jinn ("Dhu Ath-Thudayyah" was killed in battle by Ali).

As we mentioned earlier that Sabaʾiyya are actually many people from different places (few thousands of men who invaded Al Madinah and killed Uthmaan), therefore the narrators can NOT quote or know what many different men of those invaders said or did. So, they simplified that huge task by making Sabaʾiyya talk and act as one single man (ibn Saba). So, if any invader of Sabaʾiyya said something its ibn Saba who said it, or if one invader of Sabaʾiyya did something its ibn Saba who did it. Ibn Saba' is like the sum or spirit or symbol of those invaders (Sabaʾiyya).


Why the narrators named the Sabaʾiyya after Ibn Saba?

Because this habit or method is always followed by the ancient narrators. Here are few examples:

 (1) Some narrators invented a man which they named Sufsta (sophista), and then they claimed that the name sophism was derived from the name of that man Sufsta.

But we know that Greek word sophism, is derived from sophía, “wisdom, learning” not from the name of a man.

(2) Some narrators invented from the name of Islamic Sufism a man named Sufah and attributed Sufism to him.

(3) Some narrators invented from the name of the Qur'anic word (alssabieen) or Sabians, a man whom they named him sabi, and then they said that the Sabians are named after him.

(4) Some narrators invented the Arabic name Tufail (specific individual) from Tufailywn (people who enter feasts without being invited), then they attributed Tufailywn to him.

 (5) Some narrators invented from the name of the Nabat of Iraq (original inhabitants of Iraq before Islamic conquest), a man whom they named Nabat (they made him live during the time of king Solomon), and then they attributed Nabat people to him.

(6) Some narrators even invented from the Ulooj (enemies of Islam who engage in battles with muslims like romans or crusaders) a father which they called Aljan, and then attributed the Ulooj to that father.

In the same way, the narrators invented from the name of the Sabaʾiyya a man or (Satan appeared as human) and they called him ibn Sabaʾ (the son of Sabaʾ), then they said that the Sabaʾiyya got their name from that man whose name is (ibn Sabaʾ).

This is the same way that the people of genealogy (Ansab, as in Arabic) use.  Ansab  scholars who were usually ignorant of the origin of the name of any people (for example, why the people of Persia were called by that name), they usually answer that (the people of Persia were called by that name because their father's name was Persia). It's Like they explained the "meaning of water" after effort by the same word "water". They also said in the same way (like the Bible before) that the people of Greece are called after their father Greece (Yawan, yunan), the Arabs named after their father Ya'rub, Yemenites named after their father Yemen, and Hadramites named after their father Hadramawt, Omanites named after their father Oman, China named after their father or king China, and almost every people got their name from an earlier man with the same name of his people.

This is the way of ancient narrators (Jews, Arabs, Romans, …) , they attribute the group (people, sect, party, family,  ..) to an earlier man (father, king,..) which they get his name from the name of that group. For example, if Australians were known at the time of ancient narrators they will say that Australians were called as such because an earlier man called Australia.

 In this same rotation of explaining names, the ancient Arab narrators actually derived from the name of the Sabaʾiyya the name (Ibn Sabaʾ). They reversed the situation and said that Sabaʾiyya got their name from their leader (Ibn Saba), While the truth is just the opposite.


Why Ibn Saba became a Yemenite?

 After the killing of the Caliph Uthmaan, and after few decades when the verb "Sabaʾ" (which means to invade) died, the later narrators misunderstood the meaning of the name "Ibn Sabaʾ" (who then became one specific unique person= the leader of Sabaʾiyya). The only obvious simple explanation the narrators can find is this:  he is called "Ibn Sabaʾ" because he is from the land of Sabaʾ (Yemen).



Why (ibn Saba') was called (ibn al-Sawdāʾ)?

 The early people called (ibn Saba') as (ibn al-Sawdāʾ). The later narrators understood (ibn al-Sawdāʾ) as (son of black woman). But early people didn’t mean that, and they did not intend to defame "Ibn Sabaʾ" with the black skin of his mother by calling him (ibn al-Sawdāʾ). But actually they meant to disgrace the blackness of his evil heart, liver and work. The Arabs call the enemy as "dailam" which is close to " zalam=darkness" because of his evil (his black and dark deeds as seen by the eyes of his victims), and they call the enemy a " black liver". Arabs attribute the blackness to the devil, evil, grief, death, war, hostility, ugliness, injustice, and any bad thing.

This Qur'anic verse is enough to show that word "black" is used in such cases:

Surah An-Nahl – Verse 58: وإِذَا بُشّـِرَ أَحَدُهُم بِالاُنثَي ظَلَّ وَجْهُهُ مُسْوَدّاً

Wa izaa bushshira ahaduhum bil unsaa zalla wajhuhoo muswaddan

58. “And when one of them is given the news of having a daughter his face becomes black”/[and if someone preached to the female face was blackened].

And this is used in all languages like the phrase (black heart) or (dark ages of Europe) or (the unguided lives in darkness) or (dark moments or days) or (his face darkened with anger).

In the same way, they link the enemy with blackness. They said about (ibn Muljam) who killed Ali that his face blackened and burned. And (ibn Saba') blackened because he said bad words against the Companions and he made war. And blackened "Dhul-Khuwaisarah" and "Dhu Ath-Thudayyah"). And blackened the faces of the enemies of the Companions. And blackened the face of  Nāṣibi (enemy or hater of Ali) in the eyes of Shiite.

As they called who invaded (verb: Saba') Al Madinah by the name ibn Saba', and called who fought (verb: haraba) the Caliph by the name ibn harb (son of war, which is also the title of ibn sab'), in the same way they also called the man of black (Arabic: aswad, swdaa) words and deeds by the name "ibn al-Sawdāʾ" or (son of blackness).

 It has nothing to do with the mother of "ibn al-Sawdāʾ" as the later narrators misunderstood and said that his mother was a black woman from Ethiopia.


Hamed Al Awlaki