Sabeans/ Sabians :-

Sabians of the Qu'ran-
       The Qu'ran briefly announces the Sabians as people of the book but provides no details as to who they were.  It is only logical that considering there is no explanations on who they were is that either the Sabians were well known at the time of Mohammed or that the name Sabian describes who they were in one word.

       There also appears in many written books a confusion as to who the Sabians are.  They are described as everything from star worshippers to descendants of the Queen of Sheba. Many authors only refer to the Sabians of Harran as the Sabians of the Qu'ran and that today there are no Sabians left.  Yet in the border areas of Southern Iraq and Iran there is a group of people who are known as the Mandaeans.  Locally the Moslems refer to these people as Subi- The Sabians.

       There is a lot of evidence that shows the Mandaeans are not the Harranians and are the true Sabians of the Qu'ran. Many authors have mixed up the various reports about the Sabians without first dividing them into two different groups. This confusion began when the Harrians (in the 9th century) stole the name Sabians in order to protect themselves from the Moslems.

        These Sabians of Harran [the ones that are falsely identified with the Qu'ran] are planet and idol worshippers. Yet throughout the centuries the true Sabians of the Qu'ran have never been forgotten. They are the Mandaeans, a monotheistic group that worships God and God alone.

Let me put forth the evidence that supports this.

1. The word Sabean (Sabian)
2. The etymology of the word sabiun
3. The Arab writers before 832 to 833 AD
4. The Arab writers after 833 AD
5. Conclusion
1. The word Sabian (Sabaean)
       The whole debate on who the Sabians are is caused because of the following verses from the Qu'ran, the Holy Book of Islam:
2:62 "Those who believe, and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve." (87)

5: 69 "Those who believe and the Jews and the Sabaeans [Sabians] and this Christians— whoever believes in Allah and the last day anddoes good they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve."  (88)

2: 17 "Those who believe and those how are the Jews and the Sabeans and the Christians and the Magians [Zoroastrians] and those who set up gods (with Allah)-- Allah will decide between them on the day of resurrection for God is a Witness over all things." (89)
       But just what does the word Sabians mean and where does it come from. There are two specific uses for the word.  They are:

1. The sabium is the plural of sabi.  There are two roots associated with this word.

A.   The first root is saba’a meaning “to change, to come out, to convert, to return” (90) According to medieval scholars the Arabs used this verb for the stars when they came out and night—also for a camel when it returned—but it is more commonly used for someone who has changed religions. Two examples are: when someone became a Muslim ---saba’s fulanun “ so and so changed his religion” (91) and sabana sabana “ we have changed our religion, converted” (92) used by the people of Ben Jazimah when Kalid ibn al-Walid.

B. The word saba means to “incline, to turn over”. (93) The Arabs use this verb for when a man has left his religion and is inclined to another.

2.   The word sabi was used to describe Mohammed during his time in Mecca.  Islamic scholars give the explanation for this word simply as “one who has changed his religion” so thus the prophet was called sabi.  On the other hand those Muslim scholars who lived during the early Islamic period and knew of Mohammed make a specific connection between the word sabi for the prophet and his teaching.  According to these early writers the teaching of the prophet is connected with the beliefs of the Sabians who live in Iraq with a monotheistic belief system. (94)

‘Abd al-Rahman ‘ibn ‘Zayd (d.798 AD) wrote:        
"The polytheists used to say of the prophet and his companions ‘these are the Sabians’ comparing them to them, because the Sabians who live Jaziartal-Mawsil (today known as Iraq) would say ‘there is no God but God’." (95)
Rabi’ah ‘ibn ‘Ubbad (who lived at the same time as Mohammed) wrote:
"I saw the prophet when I was a pagan. He was saying to the people, ‘if you want to save yourselves, accept that there is no God but Allah’ At this moment I noticed a man behind him saying ‘he is a sabi.’ When I asked somebody who he was he told me he was ‘Abu Lahab, his uncle." (96)
Both ‘Ibn Jurayi (d. 767) and ‘Ata ‘ibn Abi Rabah (d.732) wrote:
"I saw the prophet when I was a pagan. He was saying to the people, ‘if you want to save yourselves, accept that there is no God but Allah’ At this moment I noticed a man behind him saying ‘he is a sabi.’ When I asked somebody who he was he told me he was ‘Abu Lahab, his uncle' Of the relationship between the Sabians who lived in Sawad (in Iraq ) and Mohammed it is mention that the polytheists of Mecca were heard to say of Mohammed "he has become a Sabian." (97)
‘Ibn Jurayi (who lived in the 8th century) wrote:
" He (Mohammed) is a Sabian" (98)
‘Abd al-Rahman ‘ibn Zayd (d798 AD) wrote:
The prophet and his companions are referred to as "these are the Sabians" comparing Mohammed to the Sabians (99)
2. The etymology of the word sabiun

       It is a common belief that the word Sabean comes from Sabi'un ("Convert"), meaning one who 'converts' from the worship of many gods to the worship of the One True God’ The definition was used mainly by Arab scholars from the middle ages. According to many western scholars the word sabiun is not of Arab origin. The most logical theory is that the word used by the Arabs was originally Mandaic (the language of the Mandaeans- also known as the Sabians of the Qur’an). In Mandaic the verb sb was developed from the Syriac verb. In Mandaic the ayn of the Syriac is changed into the alaf in Mandaic. The Arabs then borrowed the word root sb from the Mandaeans. Lets look into this in more depth. (100)

       Arab lexicographers explain the word sabi as being derived from the verb which, means “arise, apostatize” or “incline, turn away from the (true) religion” Thus giving the meaning “ those who take on a new religion other than their own” just like Mohammed did.   Western scholars do not accept this definition. The western scholars while they differ on the etymology they all agree that the word is non-Arab in origin.

       E. Peacock in 1649 suggest that the word sabi is derived from the Hebrew sabba meaning “army, troops”. (101) M. Tradieu in 1986 once again brings up this theory. (102) R. Bell leans towards the word being a play on the name Sabeans of South Arabia. (103) H. Grimme looked to the Ethopic verb sbh which means “tributum pendere” (weigh, tribute) (104) J. Wellhausen, (105) D. Chwolsohn (106), and E.S. Drower (107) suggests that this term is connected with the Syriac verb sb which means to “dip, moisten, dye, baptize” J. Segal explains the word comes from the geographical term Soba-- (the city of Nisibis). (108)

       The word Sabian was already in used before the appearance of Mohammed. Eusebius recounts the works of Hegesippus who named the sects that once existed among the Jews.
       “There were, moreover, various opinions in the matter of circumcision among the children of Israel, held by those who were opposed to the tribe of Judah and to Christ: such as the Essenes, the Galileans, the Hemerobaptists, the Masbothaei, the Samaritans, the Sadducees, the Pharisees.”   (109)
       Another form of the word Masbuthaeans, ‘Basmothaeans’, appears in the Apostolic Constitutions, in a list of Jewish heresies.
       For even the Jewish nation had wicked heresies: …Sadducees … the Pharisees … the Basmotheans … the Hemerobaptists…the Ebionites…the Essenes. "   (110)
       The word Masbuthaeans comes from the same root as the word Sabian.  In Mandaic the word Masbuta is the term used for the baptismal rite.  The Mandaic word Masbuta also comes from the root SBA that means to immerse, dip in, or baptize. (111) This is the same root that is used for the word Sabian  (also spelled Sabaean).  The Sampsaeans, as recorded by Epiphanius, honored life and the water the life that originated in the water. Epiphanius did have a look at one of their books from which he transcribe the following:
“I will be your witness on the great day of Judgement.” (112)
       This saying is very familiar to Mandaean students in comparison and use of words.  Very easily this could have been or is a phrase from a Mandaean text.

       Eisenman concludes that the word “Sampsaeans” is also just another form of the word “Sabaeans”.
       “These ‘Elchasaites are virtually indistinguishable from another group Epiphanius is later calling the ‘Sampsaeans’, another probable corruption or variation of the Syric / Islamic Sabians or ‘Masbuthaeans, that is Daily Bathers, below.” (113)
       Many Arab writers have written the about the Sabians in what could be classified as ancient literature.  These Arab writers can be divided into two groups. The first set is those writers closest to the time of Mohammed who wrote about the Sabians. The other group is the writers after the Caliph al-Mamun.

3. Below is a list of the early Islamic writers and their views on who or what the Sabians are.

‘Abd ‘Allah ‘ibn al-‘Abbas (lived about 650 AD) wrote:
The religion of the Sabians is a sect of Christianity. (114)
Ziyad ‘ibn ‘Abihi (d. 672 AD) who was the governor of Iraq during the first Umayyad caliph Mur awiyah wrote:
The Sabians believed in prophets and prayed five times daily. (115)
Mujahid ‘ibn Jarir (d 722 AD) wrote:
The Sabians have no distinctive religion and is somewhere between Judaism and Magianism. (116)
‘Ibn Abi Nujayh (d749) wrote:
The Sabians were between Judaism and Magianism. (117)
Suddi (d745 AD) also wrote:
The Sabian religion is between Judaism and Magianism. (118)
Hasan al-Basri (d728 AD) wrote:
They read the zabur (Psalms) and pray in the direction of the qiblah.  He also wrote that the Sabian religion resembled the Magians and worshipped angels. (119)
Wahb ‘ibn Munabbih (d 728-732 AD) who was originally from Iran wrote:
The Sabians believe "there is no God but God" and that  they do not have canonical law. (120)
‘Ata ‘ibn ‘Abi Rabah (d732 AD) wrote:
The Sabians live in “Sawad” and are not identical with the Magians, Christians, or Jews. (121)
‘Ibn Jurayi (who lived in the 8th century) also wrote:
The Sabians are in Sawad and are between the Magians, Christians, or Jews.  He also wrote that the polytheists said of Mohammed  “He is a Sabian”. (122)
Qatadah ‘ibn Di’amah (d736 AD) wrote:
The Sabians worshipped angels, read zabur, prayed five ritual prayers.  In addition he writes that they pray to the sun. (123)
‘Abdul al-Zanad (d.747 AD) wrote:
The Sabians are from “Kutha” in Iraq, they believe in prophets, fast 30 days in a year, and pray 5 times daily towards Yaman. (124)
‘Abu Hanifah (d.767 AD) who is the founder of the Hanafite School of Islamic Law wrote:
The Sabians read zabur and are between Judaism and Christianity. (125)
‘Awza’ (d.773 AD) a representative of the ancient Syrian school of religious studies wrote:
The Sabians are between Judaism and Christianity. (126)
Malik ‘ibn ‘Anas (d795) wrote:
The Sabians are between Judaism and Christianity and they have no scriptures. (127)
Khalil ‘ibn Ahmad (d. 786-787 AD) who was in Basra before his death, wrote:
The Sabians believe they belong to the prophet Noah, they read zabur, and their religion looks like Christianity. He also states that they worship the angels. (128)
‘Abd al-Rahman ‘ibn Zayd (d. 798 AD) wrote:
The Sabians say that their religion is a religion to itself and they live near Mosul (jazirat al-mawsil) and believe in only one God.  He also wrote that they have no prophet, no scriptures, and no cult yet their main belief is “there is no god but God”.  He also remarked that the Sabians did not believe in the Prophet Mohammed, yet the polytheists were known to say of the Prophets and his companions “these are the Sabians” comparing them to them. (129)
‘Ahmad ‘ibn Hanbal (d. 855 AD) the ‘Iman of Baghdad wrote:
The Sabians are a sect of Christianity or Judaism. (130)
       In conclusion the Sabians of the Qur’an as described were of a monotheistic belief system, which resemble Judaism, Christianity and Magianism and were located in Iraq around the areas of Mosul and Kutha.   These Sabians also existed before Mohammed and it is claimed that Mohammed was at some time one of the Sabians.
4. The Arab writers after 832 to 833 AD
       The term Sabians of Harran only appears in the late 9th century. Before this date they were referred to only as Chaldeans or Harrians or Nabataeans. The later Moslem writers describe (after the Caliph al-Mamun THE DATE 832-833 AD) describe these Sabians as people who worship planets, idols, stars, and are located in the city of Harran. The Harrians adopted the name Sabians for two reasons. The first it was the Harrians who wanted to be protected from Islam because the Harrians believed in pagan rituals including HUMAN SACRIFICE. Reason two is that they were active in politics (unlike the Mandaeans) and were known to the courts of Baghdad. Thus they were able to keep portraying the lie of being the Sabians of the Qur’an. Yet the true Sabians were never forgotten. At the same time the Arab writers wrote of the Sabians of Harran they also referred to a second set of Sabians by various names and set them to live in Iraq as monotheist with a book and prophets.

‘Ahmad ‘ibn al-Tayyib (d. 899 AD) is quoted in books by the authors al-Maqdisi (d. 950 AD) and ‘Ibn al-Nadim ---the source was probably from his book (al-Tayyib) titled Kitab Risalatih fi Wasf Madhaib al-Sabiu’in.   Al-Tayyib wrote:
       The Harrians are from the city of Haran and describes their worship of planets and rites.  Al-Tayyib gave a lot of information about the Harrians in the theology, gods, fasting, sacrifices, prayers, and festivals.  He also mentions a book described to him by al-Kindi (his teacher) used by the Harrians in which there is a section on Hermes and the Unity of God, which Hermes had written for his son. (131)
‘Ibn ‘Ishun al-Harrani al-Qadi (d.912 AD) is quoted by al-Mas’udi:
He used only the name Harrians and describes them as planet worshippers and idols worshippers. (132)
‘Abu ‘Ishaq al-Farasi al-‘Istakhri (d. 915- 919 AD) wrote:
Harran is called as the City of the Sabians and states that there are 17 holy places there.  He also mentions a hill dedicated to the prophet Abraham where the Sabians pray. (133)
       ‘Abu Ja’far Muhammad ‘ibn al-Tabari (lived 838-922) is one of the earliest sources for commentary on the Qur’an and the history of Islam.
       In his commentary book on the Qur’an he examines the etymology of the word sabiun and is the first to give the meaning of sabi as someone who takes on a new religion other than his own.

       Yet in his book of the history of Islam he states that the word sabi is a personal name derived from Lamech, the father of Noah and the Sabians took their name from Lemach. Al-Tabari also is the first to use the word sabians for idolaters in general.  He also is the first to claim that Budasab (Buddah) called his people to the religion of the Sabians and that Bishtasb and his father Luhrasb, the rulers of Persia after Kaykhusraw embraced the religion of the Sabians until Sami and Zoroaster came to Bishtab with their beliefs. (134)
‘Abu Bakr Muhammad ‘ibn Zakariyya al-Radi (d. 923 AD) was a famous chemist and physician is the first to mention there are now two Sabians. He wrote:
The Sabians of Harran and the kimariyyun. They are different Sabians and the latter opposes the religion of the Harrians.  AL- Radi is quoted by al-Masudi from al-Radi’s book titled Al-Mansuri. (135)
‘Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Husayn al-Mas’udi (d. 957 AD) is the first to do an in-depth study of the Sabians.
       He uses the term sabium to include all religious sects from China to Egypt and from Syria to Egypt.  He states the Sabians are star- worshippers.  He is especially interested in the Sabians of Harran and describes their beliefs, rites, and rituals.   He made a visit to Harran in 943 AD and saw the last Harranian temple named mughallitiya in Bab al-Rika.  He wrote of the words Plato above the gates to Harran and spoke to a number of learned men in the Harranian religion.  He also mentions that the kaldaniyyun who pray to the north and live in lower Iraq between Wasit and Basra.  He says these people are opposed to the Harranians. (136)
Hamzah al-‘Isfahani (d. 961 AD) spoke of the Sabians:
"Today (10th century AD) their descendants live in the city of Harran and Ruha (modern Urfa). They gave up this name Chaldaeans from the time of the caliph al-Mamun and adopted the name sabiun" (137)
       ‘Ibn al-Nadim (d. 987 AD) wrote in his book Al-Fihrist an account of al-Mamun encounter with the Harranians.  This account which was written by ‘Abu Yusuf ‘Isha al-Quatiyi unfortunately no longer exists.  ‘Ibn al-Nadim wrote:

” Abu Yusuf Isha al-Qatiyi, the Christian, said in his book on the investigation of the school of thought of the Harnaniyun, who are known in our times as the Sabians (al- Sabah) that at the end of his life (days) al-Mamun journeyed through the regions of Mudar, heading towards the Byzantine country for a raid.  The people met him and prayed for him.  Among them were a group of the Harnaniyun whose mode of dress was wearing of short gowns and who had long hair with side bands (ringlets) like the long hair of Qurrah, the grandfather of Sinan ibn Thabit.  Al-Mamum found fault with their dress saying to them, ‘which of the wubject people are you?’ They said ‘we are the Harnaniyah.  He said ‘Are you Chrisitnas’ They replied No.  Then he said are you Jes.  No they said. He inquired are you Magians?  They answered no.  So he said to them have you a book or prohet .  When they stammered in reply he said to them: Then you are unbelievers the slaves of idols, Ashab al Ras, who lived during the days of my father al-Rasid!  As far as you are concerned it is legitimate to shed your blood as there is no direct established for you as subjects……….As you do not belong to one or other of these groups now chose one of two alternatives: Either embrace the religion of Islam or else one of those religions which Allah mentioned in His book.  Otherwise I will slay you to the last man.  I am going to grant you a delay until I return from the journey of  mine’…..Then he (the shaykh ) said to them(the Harnaniyun) ‘When al-Mamun returns from his journey say to him ‘We are Sabians (Sabiun) for this is the name of the religion which Allah may his name be exalted mentioned in the Qur’an. Profess this and you shall be saved by this.’  The date when al-Mamun returned through the lands was 8333 AD.” (138)
Abu Abd Allah Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khawarizmi (d. 980-981 AD) wrote:
That the Sabian rmembers live in Harran and Iraq. They adopted the name sabium at the time of the caliph al-Mamun. He also states that the real Sabians are a group of Christians. (139)
‘Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi (d. 1037 AD):
He divides the Sabians into two groups—the Sabians of Harran and true Sabians of Wasit. (140)
‘Abu al-Rayhan Muhammad ‘ibn ‘Ahmad al-Biruni (lived 972 to 1048):
He also divides the Sabians into two groups. He writes that the first group is the Harranians from the city of Harran and the other group is at Wasit in Sawad al-Iraq. He states that the ones in Iraq are the true Sabians. (141)
Al-Burni (about 1050- AD) writes:
“This sect (al-Harraniyyun) is much more known by the name the Sabians than the others (who live in Wasit and vicinity) although they themselves did not adlopt this name before 228 AH under Abbasid rule, solely for the purpose of being reckoned among those from whom the duties of the Dhimm are accepted and towards whom the laws of Dhimma are observed.  Before that time they were called heathens, idolaters, and Harrians.” (142)
‘Abu Muhammad ‘ibn ‘Ahmad ‘ibn Hazm al-Qurtubi (lived 994 - 1063) states:
The Sabians are star and idol worshippers. He also includes a new idea that the religion of the Sabians was ancient until a group fabricated stories about planet worship. That is why God sent Mohammed and Islam to change the religion back to the way it was before the fabrication. (143)
‘Abu al-Qasim Sa’id ‘ibn Sa’id al-Andalusi (d. 1070 AD):
He says the Sabians are idol worshippers. But he also mentions there was a former Sabian religion. (144)
‘Abu al-Fath Muhammad ‘ibn ‘Abd al-Karim al-Shahrastani (lived from 1086 to1153):
He writes in his book on comparative religions: there are two Sabians ---the ancient first Sabians and the Harranians. (145)
       From here on most of the Arab writers write that the Sabians are from Harran and are idol worshippers. The true Sabians of lower Iraq – Iran  area are referred to by a variety of names.
5. Conclusion
       The Sabians are mention by contemporaries of Mohammed in the terms that Mohammed was a Sabian. Until 832-833 AD there is only one Sabian group named with Sabium referred to as those who immerse in water. These Sabians live in Iraq with a monotheistic religion that resembles Judaism and Christianity. They have prophets and religious scriptures. Mohammed wrote of these Sabians to be included in the Qur’an. It is only after the cut off date832-833 that the term and definition for sabium changes. This is directly influenced by the propaganda of the Harranians who took the name Sabians. After 832-833 AD the definition is given for the word sabium. The word now no longer means to immerse in water but to convert from one religion to another. At the same time the Harranians are now calling themselves Sabians. The Sabians of Harran are defined as idol worshippers and the term Sabians is now being used to include a wide variety of religions. There is still mention of another Sabian sect - the true/ ancient/ first Sabians in Iraq that wash themselves with water. We also know that the word for sabium is taken directly from the Mandaic who changed the root verb from Syraic. In conclusion there can be no doubt that the true –original—and only Sabians (Sabeans) of the Qur’an are the Mandaeans.

       It is a common belief that the word Sabian (Sabaean) comes from Sabi'un ("Convert"), meaning one who 'converts' from the worship of many gods to the worship of the “One True God”. Arab lexicographers explain the word sabi as being derived from the verb, which means “arise, apostatize” or “incline, turn away from the (true) religion”. Thus giving the meaning “ those who take on a new religion other than their own” just like Mohammed did.  Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn al-Tabari (838-922) is credited with being the first who wrote of this meaning. In his commentary book on the Qu’ran he examines the etymology of the word Sabi’un and is the first to give the meaning of sabi as someone who takes on a new religion other than his own.

       Western scholars do not accept this definition and while they differ on the etymology, they do all agree that the word Sabi’un is not of Arab origin. The most logical theory is that the word used by the Arabs was originally Mandaic (the language of the Mandaeans). In Mandaic the verb “sb” was developed from the Syriac verb. In Mandaic the ayn of the Syriac is changed into the alaf in Mandaic. The Arabs then borrowed the word root “sb” from the Mandaeans.


The verse about Jews, Christians and Sabeans

2:62 "Those who believe, and those who followed Jewish law, and [also] Christians and Sabeans, whoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day and does good
deeds, they shall have their reward before their Lord, and there shall be no fear upon them, nor shall they grieve." [Al-Baqarah]

Qadi al-Baydawi said the following in his respected exegesis (tafseer):
(Bracketed [] comments prefixed by SZ: are from Shaykh Zadeh's exegetial annnotations on Baydawi's exegesis. Parenthesised () comments are my own, added where the English translation of the author's diction does not convey the meaning which is obvious in the original Arabic):
"'Those who believe' i.e. from the ummah of Muhammad. It has been said that the reference here is to the hypocrites, since they (i.e. 'those who believe') have been associated with the disbelievers (i.e. the other three groups - Jews, Christians and Sabeans are disbelievers, and thus mention of believers in the same category as them does not make sense, unless we take it as referring to [SZ: those who profess faith by their tongue only] and are therefore believers in the eyes of the world, but not before Allah)
. . . .
(he then discusses the etymological roots of the words for 'Jewish',  'Christian' and 'Sabean')
. . . .
'they shall have their reward before their Lord', that is, whoever among them was following his religion before it was abrogated. [SZ: he (al-Baydawi) adds the word(s) 'among them' in consideration of the possibility that 'whoever believes' is a <Mubtada'> (part of speech in Arabic, signifying a particular type of subject) whose <khabar>
(another part of speech, which refers to the predicate referring back to the subject) is 'they shall have their reward'; and this predicate (<khabar>) along with its subject (<Mubtada'>) comprises the predicate (<khabar>) for the words of The Exalted (meaning), "Those who believe . . .". A phrasial <khabar> invariably requires an <`aaid> (something which connects it to its <Mubtada'>, for otherwise we would have a hanging phrase, which is inadmissible), but none is (explicitly) mentioned, and so it (the <`aaid>) is implicitly understood to be 'among them.']"
Suheil adds: the above highlights the importance of being fully conversant with the Arabic language before attempting to interpret the Qur'an. In this  light, the Prophet has said,   "Whoever spoke about the Qur'an according to his (own, unlearned) opinion, or without knowledge, should seek his place in the Fire."

From the above extract, we may also infer that there are two possibilities for interpreting the verse:
i) That there is an implicit <`aaid>, which renders the meaning as follows:
"Those who merely profess to be believers, as well as those who follow Jewish law, and Christians, and Sabeans - whoever among them now  affirms faith in Allah and the Last Day (the hypocrites must do so by adding affirmation of their hearts to their verbal declaration of faith, the others by embracing the completion of revealed religion which was sent with Prophet Muhammad) shall have their reward before their Lord, and there shall be no fear upon them nor shall they grieve."
ii) That the verse refers to those Jews, Christians, etc. who faithfully followed the religion revealed to them before it was abrogated. Thus, included in the promise of salvation given by this verse are those Jews who followed the Torah and died prior to the coming of Prophet Jesus, and those Christians who followed the Injeel and did not commit <shirk> and who died prior to the coming of Prophet Muhammad. This interpretation is supported by that which has been narrated by Ibn Kathir in his exegesis of the verse, which is that the verse was revealed about the former companions of Salman the Persian. Salman told the Prophet that "they used to pray and fast, and believe in you and that you would be coming as a prophet."
       Those Jews who rejected Jesus are excluded from the glad tidings, as evidenced by the verse (translated):

61:14 ". . . Jesus, Son of Mary, said to the disciples, 'Who will be my supporters in the cause of Allah?' The disciples said, 'We are supporters of Allah('s cause).' So, a group of the Children of Israel believed and a group disbelieved."[Al Saff]

       Thus, those who rejected Jesus became disbelievers, and lost the promise of salvation.

        Similarly, those Jews and Christians who do not accept the message of Prophet Muhammad also become disbelievers, as testified to by the Hadith in Sahih Muslim,
"There is no Jew, nor any Christian, who hears about me, and then does not believe in me and in that with which I have been sent, except that Allah must enter him into the Fire."

       It is not permissible to interpret the verse as implying that all Jews, Christians and Sabeans will enter heaven, because:
a) This contradicts the proofs presented in ii) above (and other similar proofs which I have omitted above), and any interpretation of a verse which contradicts other decisive verses and ahadith is to be rejected.
b) It is not known with certainty who the Sabeans are.

Mujahid said: they are a people different from the Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, and Ibn Kathir has preferred this view.

Abul-`Aliyah and al-Dahhak said: they are a sect of the People of the Book who read the Zabur.

Abu Ja`far al-Razi said: I have been informed that they worship the angels, recite the Zabur and pray to a Qiblah.

Wahb ibn Munabbih said: they are those who recognise Allah on their own, who have no shari`ah by which to act, and who do not commit kufr.

al-Qurtubi said: they claim that they follow the religion of Noah.

Some scholars said: they are those who did not receive the message of any prophet.
Abu Hanifah said: they are part of the People of the Book, who worship faced towards the planets.

Abu Yusuf and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan said: they worship the planets and believe the planets have an influence on them, and they are therefore disbelievers.

       According to some of the above opinions, the Sabeans are clearly classified  as disbelievers, who are not guaranteed salvation under any revelation. The absence of any decisive identification of the Sabeans brings this verse into the category of the <Mutashaabihaat> - those verses whose exact meaning is ambiguous and should be left to

       A text whose exact meaning is vague or unclear cannot be used to prove a point even in jurisprudence, let alone in the fundamentals of doctrine. According to the self-evident rule of usul, the ambiguous must always be referred back to the decisive, and certainly, there is no dearth of decisive texts on the issue of salvation.

3: 7 "As for those in whose hearts is a disease, they follow that of it which is ambiguous, seeking <fitnah> and seeking to interpret them whereas none knows their (exact) interpretation except for Allah." [Aali-`Imran]


       W. St. Clair-Tisdall (W.St. Clair Tisdal, The Sources of Islam, The Orgins of the Koran, pp.236-237) writes that the Sabeans inhabited Syria. They were the followers of Seth and Idris.

        Sabeans fasted for 30 days from night to sunrise, observed Eid and prayed for the dead without prostration. Muhammad simply copied their system of fasting (only change made was fasting from dawn to dusk) and retained the celebration of Eid and the prayer for the dead in exactly the same fashion as the Sabeans.

       Thus the rules on fasting as prescribed in verses 2:183-187 were actually adapted from the Holy Scriptures of the Sabeans. In fact, the Qur'an confirms itself that the system of fasting was a copy-cat from other faith, but remaining coy about which religious scripture Muhammad copied from.

       Here is verse 2:183 that says that the Islamic system of fasting is the mimicry of the other faith (Sabeans, of course):
2.183 O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint
       The Sabeans possessed a book called 'Pages of Seth'. They observed 7 prayers a day, 5 of which were at the same hours as chosen by Muhammad.

       They also venerated Ka'ba. Muhammad, most likely, learned about the Holy Scripture of the Sabeans from Bahira, the monk and from Salman, the Persian, because both of them had spent a considerable amount of time in Syria and were well aware about the sources, rituals and the religious doctrine of the Sabeans. Muhammad simply incorporated those in the Qur'an - passing them as Allah's dictum.
       On the Sabeans, the Dictionary of Islam (Hughes Dictionary of Islam, p.551) writes that they worshipped the stars secretly but openly professed to be Christians.

       Others say that they were of the religion of Sabi, the son of Seth, the son of Adam. Some say they were of the religion of Noah. Their Qiblah was towards the south, from whence the wind blows.
       No doubt, after learning about the Sabeans, Muhammad was profoundly impressed by their religion and hastened to incorporate some of their rituals in Islam. He regarded them as the true believers of Allah. In fact, the Dictionary Islam (ibid) writes that the Arabs used to call Muhammad as Sabi-he who has departed from the religion of the Quraysh. The Qur'an mentions them 3 times in the following verses:

2.62 Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures) [Hadoo], and the Christians [Nasara] and the Sabians [Sabi'een],- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

5.69 Those who believe (in the Qur'an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures) [Hadoo], and the Sabians [Sabi'oon]and the Christians [Nasara],- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

22.17 Those who believe (in the Qur'an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures) [Hadoo], and the Sabians [Sabi'een], Christians [Nasara], Magians [Majoos] , and Polytheists [Ashrakoo], - Allah will judge between them on the Day of Judgment: for Allah is witness of all things.
Note: that those verses also contain the the Christians and the Magians (Zoroastrians).

       *** In the verses above, the Quran uses the word Hadoo, which actually means 'those who converted to the religion of the Jews' from among the indigenous Arabian tribes ***