The Shia Narrator with a Double-Life


`Abbād bin Ya’qūb Al-Rawājinī, a third century Kufan narrator, is one of the most peculiar cases a hadithist will ever come across. Even though he does not shy away from showing his Shīa tendencies by cursing companions like Uthmān, it seems as though he knew his boundaries and avoided crossing them.

We find similar scenarios today. A scholar will criticize the caliphs, declare that Mu’awiyah is out of Islam, show extreme love for Ahlulbayt, but would claim to be a Sunnī. These are all major red flags. However, there are other certain views, if suppressed, could allow a closet Shia to win the hearts of Sunnīs. These include, calling to the Imamate of the Twelve Imams, or the resurrection of the Imāms, or the distortion of the Qur’an, among other exclusive Shīa views. Views like these would only expose one as a taqiyyah practitioner.

The Early Sunni View of `Abbād

The general view of `Abbād was a positive one. He was declared reliable by Ibrāhīm Ibn Abī Shaybah and Al-Dāraquṭnī.[1]

Ibn Khuzaymah, when quoting from `Abbād in his Ṣaḥīḥ, would say, “It was narrated to us by `Abbād bin Ya’qūb, the one who is accused in his views but reliable in his hadīth…”[2] This statement of Ibn Khuzaymah is quoted as an example of the objectivity of hadīth scholars who would relate and rely on hadīths from those they viewed as heretics, as long as they were truthful. However, it seems as though Ibn Khuzaymah may have rejected `Abbād in the end.[3]

Ibn ‘Adī, on the other hand, did call out `Abbād for narrating some reports in the merits of Ahlulbayt and those that disparage the companions.

The most explicit criticism was by Ibn Ḥibbān[4] who pointed out that `Abbād would narrate rejected reports from famous narrators that were not known for narrating such narrations.

`Abbād was also known to have disparaged Uthmān,[5] however, it seems that he was careful not to narrate hadīths that condemn him to his Sunnī audience.

Ṣaliḥ bin Moḥammad Al-Ḥāfiḏ, Abū Ṭāhir Al-Madīnī, and Ibn Ḥibbān all called `Abbād a Rafiḍī,[6] while Al-Ḥakim said that he was extreme in his Shiasm.[7]

The Early Shia view of `Abbād

In a major twist, Al-Ṭūsī[8] claims that `Abbād bin Ya’qūb is an `Āmī, in other words: a Sunnī. This is quite a shock to those studying the character of `Abbād in the books of both sects, for how is it possible that both sects contradict one another by attributing a narrator to the other sect instead of embracing him as their own?

A solution to this dilemma can be found in Al-Najāshī’s biography of `Abbād Abū Sa’īd Al-`Uṣfurī. He says:

“`Abbād Abū Sa’īd Al-`Uṣfurī is a Kufan. Abū Abdillāh Al-Ḥusayn bin Ubaidillāh – may Allah have mercy on him – used to say, ‘Our companions would say that this `Abbād is actually `Abbād bin Ya’qūb, but had his name changed by Abū Samīna.’”[9]

In other words, according to Al-Najāshī’s new information, `Abbād was called Al-`Uṣfurī by Abū Samīna. Al-Uṣfurī is a job title for one who dyes clothes. Abū Samīna gave him this title in order to hide his identity.

Al-Ṭūsī may have been aware of this and gave a separate biography for `Abbād Al-`Uṣfurī, suggesting that there were two `Abbāds and not just one. This may have been due to his ignorance of the reality of `Abbād, or because he wanted to keep the charade on-going.

However, the greatest evidence that `Abbād is actually a full-fledged Twelver is the asl that he narrates, which is what we’ll be exploring further.

It should be noted that `Abbād’s asl is the most important asl that we have access to today. It is the only asl that speaks about the appointment of the Twelve Imāms. The usool, according to Shīas, are the four-hundred works that were written by the companions of the Imāms. Shīas often argue that their Four Books are built upon the narrations of these four-hundred usool.

Was `Abbād bin Ya’qoub really `Abbād Al-Uṣfurī?

There is no reason to assume that they are not one and the same, apart from the contradiction above about his sectarian leanings, for both were named `Abbād, were called Abū Sa’īd, were from Kufa, lived in the same era, and shared the same teachers.

`Abbād’s asl, only includes nineteen narrations, through seven teachers. Four of those teachers are also teachers of `Abbād bin Ya’qūb in Sunnī books. These teachers are Al-Ḥusayn bin Zayd bin `Alī,[10] ‘Amr bin Thābit,[11] Hammād bin Īsa,[12] and Abdul Raḥmān Al-`Arzamī.[13]

The Pro-Shīa Narrations of `Abbād in Sunnī Books

We find in both Sunnī and Shīa books a decent number of pro-Shīa narrations by `Abbād.

In Sunnī books, it seems that `Abbād was able to avoid much criticism by being careful with what he narrates. For instance, he narrates through the path of Sulaymān bin Qarm that the Prophet – peace be upon him – and `Alī will be resurrected together.[14] He also narrates from `Alī bin `Ābis  that the Prophet – peace be upon him – gave Fāṭima Fadak while he was alive.[15] He also reports from the path of Moḥammad bin Salama that `Alī was told by the Prophet – peace be upon him – that his nation would betray him.[16]

However, due to the weakness of each of those narrators that he narrates through, `Abbād would often get a free pass, and those narrators would receive the blame instead.

It was on one occasion that `Abbād was called out. He narrates from Sharīk from ‘Āsim from Zir from Ibn Mas`ūd from the Prophet – peace be upon him – that he said, “If you see Mu’awiyah on my pulpit, then kill him.” Ibn Ḥibbān accuses `Abbād for fabricating this report.[17]

Al-Dāraquṭnī, surprisingly, comes to the rescue of `Abbād, in his commentary of Al-Majrūhīn by claiming that `Abbād never narrated this hadith from Sharīk, but rather, narrated it from Al-Ḥakam bin Ẓuhayr, and that the inclusion of Sharīk in the chain is a mistake.[18] Al-Ḥakam was a known forger of reports.[19]

In short, it seems that `Abbād bin Ya’qūb may have indeed been truthful in Sunnī works. He would serve his sectarian beliefs by reporting pro-Shīa fabrications. However, since he is not the origin of these fabrications, the blame would fall on others in the chain. It also seems as though `Abbād was careful with what he narrated. He would not narrate to Sunnī audiences what he deemed to support his Twelver ideology.

The Extreme Narrations of `Abbād in Shīa Books

The narrations of `Abbād bin Ya’qūb in his asl show another side in the character of `Abbād. These narrations contain the following beliefs:

  • Allah created the Prophet – peace be upon him – , Ali, and eleven Imams, from His light.[20]
  • The Imams are spoken to by angels.[21]
  • The earth would collapse without the Imams.[22]
  • Allah admonished Makkah, for thinking highly of itself, then praises Karbalā’.[23]
  • Abū Bakr, `Omar, Abū `Ubayda, and Sālim conspired to prevent `Alī from becoming a caliph.[24]

It goes without saying that `Abbād would not been given a free pass if he was to narrate these narrations to Sunnīs.

Perhaps the most interesting of these reports is the following:

“`Abbād  Abū Sa’īd, from Ḥammād bin Īsa Al-`Absī, from Bilāl bin Yaḥyā, from Ḥuḏayfa bin Al-Yamān, that the Messenger of Allah – peace be upon him and his household – said, “If you see Mu’awiyah on my pulpit, then strike him with a sword, and if you see Al-Ḥakam bin Abī Al-`Ās, then kill him, even if he was under the drapes of the Ka’aba. He said, ‘The Messenger of Allah – peace be upon him and his household – exiled him to Dahlak, which is a part of Abyssinian land.’ He said, ‘When Abū Bakr came to power, he was spoken to about him, and he refused to let him back.’ He said, ‘When Omar came to power, he was spoken to about him, and he said, ‘He was exiled by the Messenger of Allah – peace be upon him and his household – and Abū Bakr, how could I allow him back?’ So he refused. When `Uthmān came to power, he said, `Omar and an old Muslim man.’ He said, ‘So he let him in and gave him a hundred thousand dirhams from the treasury of the Muslims.’”[25]

The same report can be found in Al-Ṭabarānī’s Al-Kabīr in which Ḥuḏayfa said, “When the Prophet – peace be upon him – passed away and Abū Bakr succeeded him, he was spoken to about Al-Ḥakam bin Al-`Ās. He said, ‘I will not untie a knot that was tied by Messenger of Allah – peace be upon him – .”[26]

It goes without saying that `Abbād did not quote the report in full to the Sunnī narrator in order to not disparage `Uthmān. This is a clear indication that `Abbād was very selective and careful with what he would narrate.

In another hadith, which is mentioned in Al-Ansāb by Al-Sam`ānī,[27] `Abbād bin Ya’qūb narrated to Sunnīs that Abū Bakr said, “Khālid will not do what he was ordered to.” `Abbād did not provide an explanation for this report.

However, we find a lengthy report in the asl explaining what is meant by this report. He narrated from `Amr bin Thābit, from Abī Isḥāq, from Sa’īd bin Jubayr, from Ibn `Abbās, that he said:

“Abū Bakr order Khālid bin Al-Walīd and said, ‘Kill `Alī as soon as I greet him,’ He said, ‘Abū Bakr then changed his mind while greeting to himself,’ then called out, ‘Khālid, don’t do what I ordered you to!’ `Alī – peace be onto him – looked at Khālid – may Allah curse him – and said, ‘Khālid, were you going to?’ He said, ‘Yes, by Allah.’ He (`Alī) said, ‘Your anus is tighter than his (Abū Bakr’s anus).’”[28]

Note: In this report by `Abbād, Ali is insinuating that Khālid is more of a man than Abū Bakr, and that the latter was sodomized.

Final Thoughts on `Abbād

The peculiar case of `Abbād bin Ya’qūb Al-Rawājinī may be complicated, which is only natural when we consider his situation. He attempted to walk a tight-rope, propagating some of his beliefs, without going too far and exposing himself as a Twelver Imāmī. This study, while short and incomplete, may give us an idea of how Twelvers interacted with Sunnī in their circles, since for the most part, it seems as though both schools of hadīth are completely separate from one another.


written by Farīd al-Baḥraynī


[1] Tahḏīb al-Tahḏīb 5/110

[2] Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Khuzaymah 2/376

[3] Tahḏīb al-Tahḏīb 5/110

[4] Al-Majrūḥīn 1/172

[5] Tahḏīb al-Tahḏīb 5/109

[6] Ikmāl Tahḏīb al-Kamāl 7/189

[7] Ibid 7/190

[8] Al-Fihrist p. 120

[9] Rijāl al-Najāshī p. 293

[10] Sunan Ibn Mājah (1468)

[11] Al-Ṭabarānī’s Mu’jam al-Kabīr (2051)

[12] Ibid (3168)

[13] Ibid (11842)

[14] Al-Kāmil fil Ḍu’afā’ 4/240

[15] Ibid 6/324

[16] Ibid 7/444

[17] Al-Majrūhīn 2/172

[18] Ta’līqāt Al-Dāraquṭnī `alā al-Majrūhīn 1/202

[19] Tahḏīb al-Tahḏīb 2/427

[20] Asl `Abbād Al-`Uṣfurī (3)

[21] Ibid (4)

[22] Ibid (6)

[23] Ibid (7)

[24] Ibid (15)

[25] Asl `Abbād Al-`Uṣfurī (19)

[26] Al-Mu’jam Al-Kabīr (3168)

[27] Al-Ansāb 6/175

[28] Asl `Abbād Al-`Uṣfurī (14)

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