2. Sab’iyyans: Ali Was Divine And Sowing Discord Among Muslims
3. Evidence: Ali Did Not Burn Saba’s Followers Alive
4. The Prohibition Of Burning And Mutilation
5. Did Ali Ibn Abi Talib Reject Ibn Abbas’s Opinion?
The aim of this article is to examine an episode in the life-time of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (ra), in which it is claimed that he burned alive a number of people as a result of them leaving the religion of Islam. In this article, we will explore the Hadith reports which are used for this, and look into the historical context surrounding these reports. We will aim to find out when the statement was made, and why did he carry out what he did against the person(s), 1400 years ago.
The reports which are used on this incident are very ambiguous and does not give us much information. At the end of this article we will try give a better picture as to what happened with some of those killed by Ali Ibn Abi Talib (ra). With the extra historical information available to us, we will shed a better light as to what took place prior and get better historical understanding of the said incident.
In the Caliphate of Uthman Ibn Affan (ra) there were individuals who were not pleased with him and loved to see the downfall of his rule. One group sprang up in his life-time whose aim was to either take Uthman Ibn Affan out of power or get him killed.
The group were called Saba’iyyans, whose founder Abdullah Ibn Saba led the group. Abdullah Ibn Saba was a former Jew who became a Muslim. Some historians have questioned his conversion.  They have suspected that he only became Muslim so as to spread mischief/bloodshed, disunite the Muslim community and bring the Islamic Empire down:
“Abd-Allah Ibn Saba, who is also known as Ibn al-Sawda, was from San’a who appeared outwardly to have become Muslim at the time of Uthman Ibn Affan. He was noticeably active in Syria, Iraq and Egypt in particular.
He drew up plans and produced destructive ideas to divert the Muslims from their religion and stop them obeying their caliph, and create division among them.” (Tahqeeq Mawaqif al-Sahabah fi’l-Fitnah, volume 1, page 284).” (The Biography of Uthman Ibn Affan – Dhun-Noorayn [Darussalam, Translated by Nasir Khattab, edited by Hoda Khattab] by Dr. Ali Muhammad as-Sallabi page 478)
2. Sab’iyyans: Ali Was Divine And Sowing Discord Among Muslims
The Saba’iyyans had heretical beliefs in which they believed that Ali Ibn Abi Talib (ra) was God. Ibn Hajar (1372 – 1449 CE) writes:
“… Abd-Allah Ibn Saba was one of the extreme heretics… he had followers who were called Saba’is, who believed in the divinity of Ali Ibn Abi Talib.” (Lisan al-Mizan by Ahmad Ibn Hajar [Hyderabad Deccan] volume 3, page 360).” (The Biography of Uthman Ibn Affan – Dhun-Noorayn [Darussalam, Translated by Nasir Khattab, edited by Hoda Khattab] by Dr. Ali Muhammad as-Sallabi page 480 – 481)
Note, their extreme self-devotion and believing that Ali is Divine is connected to the said incident we are going to examine:
“‘Ikrimah said: ‘Ali burned some people who retreated from Islam. When Ibn ‘Abbas was informed of it, he said: If it had been I, I would not have burned them, for the Messenger of Allah said: Do not inflict Allah’s punishment on anyone, but would have had killed them on account of the statement of the Messenger of Allah.
The Apostle said: Kill those who change their religion. When ‘Ali was informed about it he said: How truly Ibn ‘Abbas said!” (Sunan Abi Dawud Book 39, Hadith 4337 (Eng. Tran., Sahih Al-Albani, http://sunnah.com/abudawud/40/1 )
This is also reported in Sunan an-Nasa’i:
“Some people apostatized after accepting Islam, and Ali burned them with fire. Ibn Abbas said: ‘If it had been me, I would not have burned them; the Messenger of Allah said: ‘No one should be punished with the punishment of Allah.’ If it had been me, I would have killed them…” (Sunan an-Nasa’i volume 5, Book 37, Hadith 4065, Eng. Tran. Sahih Darussalam, https://sunnah.com/nasai/37/95 )
The above reports seem to imply that the people were killed as a result of them of leaving Islam. However, when we consult other historical sources, they tell us that they still believed in Islam and were accepted as being “Muslims” by the wider society. They believed in Prophet Muhammed (p) and the message he came with, but at the same time adopted extreme heretical beliefs for which some were dealt with and others exiled. 
Ibn Hajar (1372 – 1449 CE) states:
“Abu al-Mudhaffar – al-Isfariyeeni said in al-Milal wan-Nihal that those whom ‘Ali burned were a group of the Raifidis who claimed that he was divine. They were the Saba’is. Their leader Abdullah ibn Saba…. This may be based on what we have reported from Abu Tau al-Mukhlis via Abdullah ibn Shurayk al-‘bin who said: ‘It was said to Ali: “There are some people at the door of the mosque who are claiming that you are their Lord.”
He called them and said: “Woe to you, what are you saying?’ They said: “You are our lord, creator and provider. “This is a reliable chain of narration.” (Fath al-Bari, volume 12, page 271), Ali Ibn Abi Talib, [Translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab – International Islamic Publishing House], by Dr. Ali M. Sallabi, volume 2, page 322)
Abu Mansur Abd-al-Kahir Ibn-Tahir al-Baghdadi (980 – 1037 CE) provides a number of different views and reports on Abdullah Saba and his followers :
“The Sabbabiyah among them started their heresy in the time of Ali. One of them said to Ali, ‘THOU ART A GOD,’ and Ali destroyed SOME of them by fire, and banished Ibn Saba to Sabat al-Mada’in.
This sect is not one of the divisions of the Ummat al-Islam, because it calls Ali a god.” (Moslem Schisms And Sects (Al-Fark Bain al-Firak) Being The History Of Various Philosophic Systems Developed In Islam by Abu Mansur Abd-al-Kahir Ibn-Tahir al-Baghdadi (d. 1037) [Translated From The Arabic by Kate Chambers Seelye, PH.D – New York: Columbia University Press, 1920] Part 1 (Vol. 1) page 38)
“…The rise of the doctrine of anthropomorphism is linked with several groups among the ghulat Rawafid. One of them is the Sabbabiyya who CALLED ALI GOD AND IDENTIFIED HIM WITH THE ESSENCE OF GOD.” (Moslem Schisms And Sects (Al-Fark Bain al-Firak) Being the History of The Various Philosophic Systems Developed In Islam by Abu Mansur Abd-al-Kahir Ibn Tahir al-Baghdadi (d. 1037) [Tel Aviv: Palestine Publishing Co., Ltd., Porcupine Press, Philadelphia, 1978 – Translated from the Arabic with introduction and notes by Abraham S. Halkin] Part 2 (Vol. 2) page 31)
In the Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406 CE) it is reported that the Sabi’yyan group gave Ali divine qualities:
”Something of that sort has been stated with regard to Ali himself. He is said to be in the clouds. The thunder is his voice, and lightening his whip.” (Ibn Khaldun – The Muqaddimah: An introduction to History [Bollingen Series XLIII, Princeton University Press, second printing of second edition, 1980, Translated from the Arabic by Franz Rosenthal] volume 1, page 407)
In Fath al-Bari – Ibn Hajar (1372 – 1449 CE) states that they called Ali a “Lord”:
“They say “You are our Lord, Our creator, Our provider, ‘Ali (r.a.) says: “Woe unto you, I’m a servant like you, I eat exactly as you eat, I drink as you drink and that I obey Allah and he compensates me, God willing.” – (Fath al-Bari, volume 12, page 271, Ibn Hajar said: “This is Hasan”)
Ibn Taymiyya (1263 – 1328 CE) also confirms this account:
“…wish to ruin the religion of Islam like Paul the son of Joshua the King of the Jews, ruined the Christian religion. Their prayers do not go past their ears. Ali Ibn Abi Talib burned them and EXILED THEM FROM THE CITIES. Among those (who he exiled were):
Abd’Allah Ibn Saba, one of the Jews of San’a, he exiled him to Sabat; and Abu Bakr al-arawwas, he exiled him to Jabiya. He burned among them a group who came to him and said, ‘You are he!’ He said, ‘Who am I!’ They said, ‘YOU ARE OUR LORD!” (Minhaj, Ibn Taymiyya, volume, page 28. And Malati Tanbih, page 118)
The following two reports tell us that the above incident is intertwined together and this happened at the same time.
Abu Nu’aym al-Isfahani (947 – 1038 CE) reports that:
”It reached Ali THAT IBN SABA GAVE HIM PREFERENCE OVER ABU BAKR AND UMAR, so (Ali) became determined to kill (Abdullah Ibn Saba). Someone said to him, ‘Will you kill a man who only glorifies you and favors you?’ He said, ‘CERTAINLY HE WILL NOT DWELL BESIDE ME IN ANY COUNTRY WHERE I AM TO BE FOUND.
Abd’Allah Ibn hubayq said, ‘It was related to me concerning (Abdallah Ibn Saba) by al-Haytham Ibn Jamil, that ‘(Abdullah Ibn Saba) was EXILED to a land near al-Mada’in until the Hour.” (Abu Nu’aym, Hilya, volume 8, page 253)
Here Ibn Saba (Sawda) is raising Ali above other Sahaba. Sowing discord:
“… He related to them that he discovered in the Torah that every Prophet is given an heir and that Ali was the heir of Muhammad and that he was the most perfect heir just as Muhammad had been the most perfect prophet. When the Ali party heard this from him they said to Ali:
Verily he is an admirer of yours. Ali, therefore, raised his rank and seated him under the stairs of his Mimbar [in the Mosque].
Then he was informed of IBN SAWDA’S (IBN SABA) EXTRAVAGANT ATTITUDE TOWARDS HIM and he planned to kill, but Ibn Abbas dissuaded him from doing it, saying to him: if you kill him, your supporters will part company with you, and since you are set resuming war with the Syrians, you will have to honor your men.
Since HE FEARED THE SEDITION WHICH IBN ABBAS FORESAW AS A RESULT OF HIS AND IBN SABA’S EXECUTION HE BANISHED THE TWO INTO AL-MADAIN.”
(Moslem Schisms And Sects (Al-Fark Bain al-Firak) Being the History of The Various Philosophic Systems Developed In Islam by Abu Mansur Abd-al-Kahir Ibn Tahir al-Baghdadi (d. 1037) [Tel Aviv: Palestine Publishing Co., Ltd., Porcupine Press, Philadelphia, 1978 – Translated from the Arabic with introduction and notes by Abraham S. Halkin] Part 2 (Vol. 2) page 44)
“Suwayd Ibn Ghaflah said: ‘I entered on Ali ibn abi Talib during his emirate and said: ‘I passed by some folks who were talking about Abu Bakr and Umar and saying that YOU HAVE A DEEP HATRED FOR BOTH OF THEM, one of those folks ABDULLAH IBN SABA, Ali Said: ‘do not understand this wicked man (Ibn Saba), I seek refuge in Allah from this matter and I only have deep beautiful respect for them.
Then he sent after Ibn Saba and exiled him to al-Madaen, Yemen and said: ‘He will not live in the same land with me.’ He then went to his Mimbar and when the people gathered he complimented both of them and said nothing but good things about them.
Then he said: #If it reaches me that anyone prefers me over them (Shaykhayn) then I shall lash them as they do with the slandering liar.” (The Virtues of Ali ibn Abi Talib [Jawahir Media, 2015] by Luqman al-Andalusi, volume 1, page 144- 145)
If the above instances are correct, that is, that they happened on the same occasion of those who proclaimed Ali to be divine, then this would mean that their devotion and exalting Ali alone did not result in their killing by Ali. Rather it was combination of disbelief and an act of rebellion, and sowing disunity in the community.
From the above narrations and the previous ones it shows that exaltation of Ali, giving Divine qualities was not the only factor in which he killed them. It seems that the exaltation, sowing discord, showing hatred towards Abu Bakr, Umar Ibn al-Khattab may have been another factor which led to some of the being killed and others being exiled.
Ibn Taymiyya (1263 – 1328 CE) states that this group had immense “hatred of the people of Islam”:
“Al-Sha’bi stated: Beware of the people of these misleading beliefs, the worst of them being the Rafida. They did not enter Islam of their own desire, nor out of fear [of God], but rather out of HATRED OF THE PEOPLE ISLAM, to commit outrages against them.
Ali Ibn Abi Talib burnt them and bainished them to the far countries. Of them was AbdAllah Ibn Saba, a Jew from among the Jews of Sana [who was] banished to Sabit, and AbdAllah Ibn Yasar [who was also] banished to Khazar, which events support that the REBELLION…”
(Ibn Taymiyyah, Kitab al-Minjah al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyya fi Naqd al-Kalam al-Sia wa-l-Qadariyya [Cairo, 1321], page 6 – 9)
Ibn Taimiyyah confirms that these people showed open hatred towards the companions of the Prophet (p). In his words, they started “disparaging the Sahabah”:
“the first one to START DISPARAGING THE SAHABAH and who introduced the doctrine of wilayah was a hypocrite and a zindiq who intended to corrode Islam from within. He wished to scheme as Baulus (Paul) had schemed against Christianity. Prophet Jesus was raised to the heavens, and there were a precious few who followed his teachings.
His teachings thus weakened the fabric of Christianity and many started adopting his exaggerated notions and many kings were won over to their side. When their scholars tried to oppose them, they were killed, some were exiled, while some were confined to life-long sentences in remote monasteries.
On the other hand, this ummah will always have a group of staunch followers who will uphold the truth. No corrupt person will be able to destroy Islam, he will only gain some followers.” (Ibn Taymiyyah, Minhaj al-Sunnah, volume 3, page 261)
Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (1372 – 1449 CE) throws more light on the dialogue between Ali and ibn Saba on this occasion:
“Abul Ijlas says that I heard Ali telling Abdullah ibn Saba: “By Allah, I have not hidden any secret from anyone which the Holy Prophet told me. I heard the Holy Prophet saying that there would appear thirty liars before the last day, and you are one of them.”
Once Suwaid ibn Ghafalah visited Ali during his reign and told him that he had passed a few people amongst whom was IBN SABA SPEAKING ILL OF ABU BAKR.
They claimed that you also held the same opinion.” Ali retorted: “I have nothing to do with this creature. I seek refuge from Allah that I hold any opinion other than the best for Abu Bakr and `Umar.” He then EXILED IBN SABA saying that he could not tolerate to live with him in one city.
Ali then ascended the pulpit, and after relating the story said: “I will lash anyone who prefers me over Abu Bakr and Umar, the lashing of a slanderer.” (Lisan al-Mizan, Ibn Hajar, volume 3, page 290)
Ibn Asakir (1106 – 1175 CE) also confirms this account:
“The first to begin fabricating narrations was Abdullah ibn Sabaʼ. He would ascribe falsehood to Allah and Messenger. Ali I would say, ‘What relation do I have with this wicked man (Ibn Sabaʼ).’ He would speak ill of Abu Bakr and Umar I as well. … I swear by Allah, he cannot live in the same city as me. Ali exiled him to Al-Madaʼin.” (Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Damashq, Tahdhib Tarikh Damashq, volume 7, page 430)
It seems Ali was not the only one who exiled Ibn Saba out of their community. Ibn Saba was bent on disuniting the Muslims and attempting to cause internal conflict among the Muslims:
“Ibn al-Sawda (Abdullah Ibn Saba) converted to Islam in the reign of Uthman Ibn Affan. He tried to deceive people, but was unable to deceive the people of Makkah and Madinah.
Then he went to Basra and settled among the Abd al-Qays and became influential among the people. Ibn Amir heard of this and exiled him, and he came to Kufa in the eighth year. He settled among the Abd al-Qays, and a group of those whom Sa’d removed from authority because loyal to him.
Al-Ashtar, Abu Zaynab and Abu Muwari and that group came to them. Sa’d sent for (Ibn Saba) and said to him, ‘what is this that has reached me? That you are spreading Hadith and reading,
‘We decreed to the children of Israel in the book, ‘Verily you shall spread corruption in the Earth two times’, and it is they are the ones who have twice spread corruption on the Earth!’ (Ibn Saba) said, we are more knowledgable of the Hadith on the children of Israel than you all!’ ‘He speaks the truth!
Those with him said. Sa’d said, ‘he lies and you lie. By Allah if I had not been ordered to hold back from you, you people would have found me quite severe against you all. SA’D EXILED (Ibn Saba), and the people aided him in this. So (Ibn Saba) left to Syria, but he unable to accomplish anything that he wished there.
He then went to Egypt, and his companions became many there. He corresponded with his brothers from the garrison cities through letters and aided them in their aims, and thus HE WAS THE FIRST TO DISPATCH PROPAGANDISTS AMONG THE COMMUNITY, INVITING PEOPLE TO REBEL.” (Kitab al-Ridda wa’l-Futuh, Saif Bin Umar al-Tamimi, volume 1, page 55)
This is also reported here:
“Ibn Saba started off in Basrah where he propagated his wicked mission among all groups of people. Among his sayings which constitute the basis of his mission are: ‘Each Prophet has Wasiyy (a nominated successor) and Ali is the successor nominated by Muhammad, so who, then does more wrong than one who does not abide by the nomination of the Prophet?’
And Uthmaan illegitimately seized it (the Caliphate), so you should revolt against this, starting by laying accusations against your leaders and pretending that you are enjoining good and forbidding evil.’ Ibn Saba also attacked the great companions; he was the first to accuse Abu Bakr and Umar and degrade them.
Yet, Ali dissociated himself from Ibn Saba and accused him of lying against Allah and His Messenger.
Ibn Saba, however, continued his deviate claims to the extent that he claimed, ‘It is strange for one to believe that Jesus will descend and deny that Muhammad will return.’ Deceiving people by searching for proof (for his claims) in Allah’ saying,
‘Verily He Who ordained the Qur’an for thee, will bring thee back to the Place of Return.’ (Al-Qassas: 85)
Once the governor of Basrah knew about his claims, he dismissed him. Ibn Saba therefore headed for Kufah where he resumed his destructive activity. Yet, soon the Kufah’s governor dismissed him, too.
He next went to Syria. By that time, he already poisoned the atmosphere in Iraq spreading such evil thoughts that deeply affected many people whose faith was still frail even though they were Muslims.
In Syria, Ibn Saba could hardly do anything. That was because Syria was under a strong, intelligent and far-sighted governor, namely Mu’awiyah Ibn Abi Sufyaan. Ibn Saba continued his devilish journey to Egypt where he found a fertile soil for his lies. There he incited the public against the Caliph and aroused bitter feelings in their breasts against him.
The absence of Egypt’s governor Abdullaah Ibn Sa’d Ibn Abi Sarh, who was preoccupied with fighting the Romans and the people of Nubia, made his task in Egypt an easy one.” (Biographies of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs:
Prepared from the works of Ibn Katheer, At-Tabari, As-Syooti, and other historians [Prepared and translated by Tamir Abu As-Su’ood Muhammad, Noha Kamal Ed-Din Abu Al-Yazid, Revised and Edited by: M. Ibrahim Kamara, Joanne McEwan, Dar Al-Manarah, First edition, Safar 1422 – May 2001], page 305 – 306)
In Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l muluk – Muhammed Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838 – 923 CE) gives this account also:
“(Azid al-Faq’asi) says: This gained the approval [of his listeners], and so he fabricated for them [the notion of] the Return [raj’ah], and they discussed it among themselves. Later on, (Ibn Saba) said to them, ‘every Prophet has an executor (wasi) and Ali was the executor of Muhammad.’ He continued, ‘Muhammed is the seal of the Prophets, and Ali is the seal of the executors.’
Then after that he said, ‘Who commits a greater wrong than a man who has not carried out the testament of the Messenger of God, and who has usurped power over the Community?’
Then he told them, ‘Verily ‘Uthman has taken it without right, while this one [that is, Ali] is the executor of the Messenger of God. Therefore champion this cause and set it going.
Begin by censuring your governors (umara). Proclaim publicly the commanding of good and the forbidding of evil, and you will win over the people. Summon them to this cause. ’Then he dispersed his agents (du’at) and wrote to those whom he had corrupted in the garrison town s. They returned his correspondence and secretly preached notions [to others].
In public they proclaimed the commanding of good and the forbidding of evil. They began sending letters to the garrison twons, filling them with censure of their rulers, while their brethren would write back to them in similar terms.
Among [these dissidents] the inhabitants of each garrison town would write about their activities to another garrison town. Those involved would read this aloud in their various garrison towns, until finally they extended this [agitation] to Medina and spread his message throughout the earth.
Their real aim was different from the one that they proclaimed in public, and what they kept secret was different from that which they presented openly.
Thus, the inhabitants of every garrison town were saying, ‘We are secure from the trials of everyone except the Medinese.’ As the latter became aware of [the agitation] in all the garrison towns, they said, ‘We are secure from the situation facing the people.’” (The History Of al-Tabari (Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l muluk –
The Crisis of the Early Caliphate, translated and annotated by R. Stephen Humphreys (University of Wisconsin, Madison) [1990, State University of New York – Bibliotheca Persica, edited by Ehsan Yar-Shater] Volume XV (Volume 15), page 146)
Ibn Saba and his followers intentions was also to murder the Muslim leader at the time, Uthman Ibn Affan. This happened just before Ali’s incident:
“a group of those who were hostile to Uthmaan from Kufah, Basrah and Egypt reached Madeenah for secretly-contrived conspiracy.
They explained their plan saying: ‘We want to mention to the caliph certain ideas which we indoctrinate people to believe. We will then return to the people and claim that he admitted them, and did not give them up or repent.
Next we will dress as pilgrims, besiege him and depose him. If he refuses, we will kill him.’ That was the exact scenario that took place.” (Biographies of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs:
Prepared from the works of Ibn Katheer, At-Tabari, As-Syooti, and other historians [Prepared and translated by Tamir Abu As-Su’ood Muhammad, Noha Kamal Ed-Din Abu Al-Yazid, Revised and Edited by: M. Ibrahim Kamara, Joanne McEwan, Dar Al-Manarah, First edition, Safar 1422 – May 2001], page 308)
Uthman and his people were aware that Saba’s followers were trying to murder him:
“When the governors returned [from their meeting in Mecca], the sect of Ibn Saba (al-Saba’iyyah) had no way to get to the garrison towns. They wrote their adherents in the garrison towns that they should assemble in Medina in order to decide what they meant to do.
They pretended that they were simply ‘commanding the good’ and interrogating Uthman about certain issues. Their aim was for these to circulate among the people and become verified against him. Thus, they assembled in Medina, and as his envoys Uthman sent two men one from the clan of Makhzum and the other from the clan of Zuhr.
He said, ‘Find out what they mean to do and learn all about them.’ These two men were among those who had won Uthman’s respect by their refined behaviour (adab); they patiently sought the truth and harboured no malevolence. When (the dissidents) saw them, they revealed their secrets to them and informed them of their aims.
(Uthman’s two envoys said, ‘Who among the Medinese supports you against this man [namely, Uthman]? ‘Three persons,’ they answered.
The two men said, ‘Is there anyone else?’ No,’ they said. The two (envoys went on, ‘So what do you intend to do?’ They replied, ‘We want to mention to [Uthman] certain misdeeds that we have planted in the hearts of the people. Afterwards we shall go back to them and claim that we compelled him to confess these things, but that he did not abandon them or repent.
Then we will set out in the guise of pilgrims until we reach [Medina]. We will surround him and depose him, and if he refuses we will kill him.’ And so it happened.” (The History Of al-Tabari (Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l muluk – The Crisis of the Early Caliphate, translated and annotated by R. Stephen Humphreys (University of Wisconsin, Madison) [1990, State University of New York – Bibliotheca Persica, edited by Ehsan Yar-Shater] Volume XV (Volume 15), page 154 – 155)
A number of facts we can gather so far about this group that were killed:
1. This group believed that Ali was a “God”.
2. Their leader and his followers had deep hatred towards Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman Ibn Affan.
3. They sowed hatred in the society.
4. Some were killed and others exiled for having heretical beliefs and sowing discord in the community.
A careful examination of these sources reveal that both the heretical beliefs being espoused, sowing discord, and showing hatred towards Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman happened at the same time.
We may suppose, that the heretical beliefs and spreading hatred, sowing discord in the community was one of the several reasons why Ali killed them, 1400 years ago.
3. Evidence: Ali Did Not Burn Saba’s Followers Alive
Some may ask about the method of which Ali, punished those of the followers of Ibn Saba. There are few views espoused in regards to this case:
(1) There is the apparent statement in the Hadith that Ali burned them.
(2) Smoke choked them out, the fire did not touch them.
(3) There is also the view that he killed them and then threw the dead bodies in fire.
Let’s look at the three views and conclude what may have occurred historically speaking.
The first view that is held among scholars is that Ali Ibn Abi Talib did not know the prohibition of fire. Since he didn’t know the ruling then he is not to be blamed for doing something that was against Prophet Muhammed (p). I will elaborate further later why this may be not the case.
For the first case, evidence is presented where Ali admits to doing something that is not Islamic. He owns up to it and says that Ibn Abbas’s opinion in regards to the prohibition of burning is the truth.
The issue arises here is that some of those scholars do not give the extra historical understanding surrounding the Hadith reports. The apparent reading of the Hadith suggests that Ali may have burned them alive. But when the other many reports are seen for the same event, this is not the case.
When one reads a report or a Quranic verse without having the historical understanding, when and why the statement was made, people tend to make mistakes. This is what happens when one takes a snippet quote from a Hadith book and make general statement and thus giving an understanding that is not in line of the historical incident.
The second view is that Ali did not burn them but rather he smoked them i.e., the smoke that they were inhaling killed them, not the fire. 
The third view, they were killed first and then thrown in the fire. The persons Ali Ibn Abi Talib killed were long dead when their bodies were thrown in the fire. The 14th century scholar Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (1335 – 1393 CE) refers to this view that they were not put in the flame while they were alive. They were killed and then their dead bodies were burned:
“Someone else said that he killed them and then burnt them…” (The Compendium Of Knowledge And Wisdom (“Jami’al –Ulum Wal – Hikam”) – Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali [Translated by Abdassamad Clarke – Turath Publishing, 1428/2007], page 250) 
The 11th century scholar Ibn Abd al-Barr (978 – 1071 CE) states that they were dead long before the bodies were thrown in the fire:
“We have related, in various versions, the account according to which Ali only burned these people after putting them to death.” (Al-Tamhid, by Ibn Abd al-Barr, volume 5, page 317)
It seems Ali Ibn Abi Talib did not want to bury these individuals, hence he decided that they be thrown in the fire. This is incident is also reported in a number of Hadith.
In Muʿjam al-Ausaṭ – Tabarani (873 – 918 CE) reports this incident and states:
“Suwayd bin Ghaflah bin Awsajah narrates that, Ali learnt of a group who had left Islam and he summoned them before him. He fed them and invited them to return to Islam but they refused. He had a trench dug and brought them forward, he then severed their heads and threw them inside. He ordered wood to be thrown on top of their bodies and they were all burnt. He then said: “Allah and His Rasul have spoken the truth.” (Fatḥ al-Bari, by Ibn Hajar volume 12, page 270)
Abu Bakr al-Ajurri (877 – 970 CE):
“Abu Bakr Abdullah b. Muhammad b. Abd al-Hamid Al-Wasiti narrated to us, he said: Fadl b. Sahl Al-‘Araj narrated to us, he said: Shabab b. Sawwar narrated to us, he said: Kharija b. Mus’ab, from Salam b. Abi Al-Qasim, from ‘Usman b. Abi ‘Usman said: “Some people from among the Shi’ah came to ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (r.a.), they said: “O’ Amir Al-Mu’mineen, who are you?” ‘Ali (r.a.) said: “Who am I?”
They said: “He” ‘Ali (r.a.) said: “Woe to you, Who am I?” They said: “You are our Lord” Ali (r.a.) said: “Return and repent”, but they refused and he struck their necks then made furrows in the ground, then said: “O Qambar bring me firmly firewood، Qambar came with the firewood and ‘Ali burnt them with fire.” (Kitab Al-Shari’ah, Abu Bakr al-Ajurri, volume 5, page 2521; quoted in Fath al-Bari by Ibn Hajar, volume 12, page 271)
al-Tabari (838 – 923 CE) in Tahdhib al-Aathar reports:
“Narrated by Abu al-Tufayl: A group of zindiqs were brought in front of `Ali and they said: ‘You are He’ (anta Hu). He said: ‘Who am I?’ They said, ‘You are He.’ He said: ‘A curse upon you! Who am I?’
They said: ‘You are their Lord’ (anta rabbuhum). Ali said, ‘The people of Ibrahim became angered for their gods, so they decided to burn Ibrahim with fire; we have greater right to become angry for our Lord.’
Then he called Qanbar who beheaded them, after which he dug pits in which he stoked a fire and threw them in.” (al-Tabari in Tahdhib al-Aathaar – Musnad of Ali Ibn Abi Talib page 82 nos. 147-148)
In this report it is said that the incident may have took place in Yemen:
“Narrated from Abu Raja’, Some people from the Yemenis reneged from Islam in the time of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, whereupon Ali sent Jariya b. Qudama and he sent an army with him. I was part of that army. He marched and when he reached the gorges of Adiy and Taym, he decided to go faster, so he left men behind and he left me behind as well, and marched faster.
When he reached the locality he gathered those who had apostatized from Islam, beheaded them and burnt their bodies with fire. Thus had Ali commanded him to do.” (al-Tabari in Tahdhib al-Aathaar – Musnad of Ali Ibn Abi Talib page 80, no. 142) 
Al-Tamhid – Ibn Abd al-Barr (978 – 1071 CE):
“Some Shiites came to Ali and declared O Commander of the Faithful, you are He.’ Who am I?’ he asked.‘You are He,’ they replied, ‘Woe be to you! Who am I? he said. You are our Lord.’ ‘Woe be to you! Take back what you just said and repent.’ However, they refused, so he beheaded them.
Then he said, Qunbur, bring me bundles of firewood.’ He then dug a trench for them in the ground and burned them in the fire, after which he recited the verse, ‘When I set my eyes…’” (Al-Tamhid, by Ibn Abd al-Barr, volume 5, page 317) 
The unintentional mistake of a narrator not to tell the whole story (or he may not have received the whole story), that they were dead already caused confusion among some later scholars on this incident.
When everything is taken in context, one would see that the narrator may have transmitted the incident to the listeners about the dead individuals burning without mentioning the part that they were killed long before that. Hence, later readers construed the idea that Ali killed the individuals with fire alone. When in reality they were dead already. Ali didn’t want to bury them hence he ordered that their bodies be burned.
4. The Prohibition Of Burning And Mutilation
The reports about Ali Ibn Abi Talib burning dead individuals for having heretic beliefs are contrary to Islamic rulings. The are clear-cut Prophetic statements that mutilating someone dead or burning a person is forbidden (haram). There are many authentic reports where the Prophet appointed his Sahaba for an expedition he would order them to fear God, not to mutilate dead bodies. In another narration the Prophet clearly prohibited his companions from burning:
“Chapter: Regarding The ABHORRANCE Of Burning The Enemy With Fire
No one punishes with fire except the Lord of the fire.” (Sunan Abi Dawud Book 14, Hadith 2667. Eng. Tran., Sahih Al-Albani, https://sunnah.com/abudawud/15/197 )
Al-Bayhaqi (994 – 1066 CE):
“Do not punish the creatures of God with the punishment of God” (al-Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra, volume 8, page 195)
Imam Ahmad (780 -855 CE) narrates a Hadith where the Prophet (p) became angry upon hearing that some ants were burned:
“We were with the Prophet and we passed by a colony of ants which had been burned, and the Prophet became ANGRY and said, ‘It is not fitting for any man to punish with the punishment of Allah.” (Musnad Ahmad, volume 1, page 423) (The Compendium Of Knowledge And Wisdom (“Jami’al –Ulum Wal – Hikam”) – Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali, [Translated by Abdassamad Clarke – Turath Publishing, 1428/2007], page 252)
There is also the prohibition of disfigurement (mutilation). Burning is disfigurement, as such this is also Haram (forbidden):
“The Prophet forbade robbery (taking away what belongs to others without their permission), and also forbade mutilation (or maiming) of bodies.” (Sahih al-Bukhari volume 3, Book 43, Hadith 654 Eng. Tran., https://sunnah.com/bukhari/46/35 )
Muwatta Malik (711 -795 CE):
“…do not act treacherously. DO NOT MUTILATE and do not kill children.” (Muwatta Malik Book 21, Hadith 11 Eng. Tran.)
Sunan Abi Dawud (817 – 889 CE):
“(967)Chapter: Regarding The PROHIBITION OF MUTILATION
The Messenger of Allah used to exhort us to give alms (sadaqah) and FORBID US TO MUTILATE (a slain). I then came to Imran ibn Husayn and asked him. He said: The Messenger of Allah used to exhort us to give alms (sadaqah) and forbid us to mutilate (a slain).” (Sunan Abi Dawud Book 14, Hadith 2661. Eng. Tran., Sahih Al-Albani, https://sunnah.com/abudawud/15/191 )
Sunan an-Nasa’i (829 – 915 CE):
“The Messenger of Allah used to stress charity in his sermons, and PROHIBIT MUTILATION.” (Sunan an-Nasa’I, volume 5, Book 37, Hadith 4052. Eng. Tran., Sahih Darussalam, https://sunnah.com/nasai/37/82 )
Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya – Ibn Kathir (1301 – 1373 CE):
“He then told Bilal to present him with the banner, and he did so. The Messenger of God (SAAS) praised God, spoke a prayer for himself and said, ‘Take it, Ibn ‘Awf. … DO NOT defraud or use deceit, mutilate, or kill children. This is God’s covenant and the way of your Prophet among you.’” (The Life Of The Prophet Muhammad (“Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya”), [Translated by Professor Trevor Le Gassick –
Reviewed by Dr. Muneer Fareed – Garnet Publishing, The Center For Muslim Contribution To Civilization, 2000], by Ibn Kathir Volume IV (4), page 316)
Fawa’id – Zawa’id al-Ajza al-Manthurah:
“I was informed by Abu al-Hasan Ali Ibn al-Hasan Ibn Allan al-Hafiz on the authority of al-Mufaddal Ibn Muhammed al-Jundi… The Messenger of God PROHIBITED THE MUTILATION OF CORPSES.” (Fawa’id – Zawa’id al-Ajza al-Manthurah, by Al-Hafiz Tammam al-Razi, page 440) 
5. Did Ali Ibn Abi Talib Reject Ibn Abbas’s Opinion?
Some may point out to the few Hadith reports where the Arabic words seem to say that Ali disagreed with Ibn Abbas. It is assumed by some that what Ali did was actually something he endorsed and he rejected other companions’ opinions on this matter. In support of critics defence they point out to the following Arabic words “وَيْحَ ابْنَ عَبَّاسٍ” in this report:
“Wayh Ibn Abbas!”
“Woe To Ibn Abbas” (Sunan Abi Dawud (4351) Book 40, Hadith 1. Arabic. Sahih Al-Albani)
The words are slightly different in al-Bayhaqi’s report:
“‘Woe to Ibn Umm al-Fadl (that is, Ibn Abbas)!” (Sunan al-Kubra, al-Bayhaqi, volume 8, page 202) 
From the above reports it is claimed that Ali, here, disagreed and rejected Ibn Abbas’s opinion since the words are evident. This claim is not based on clear textual evidence but rather on pure speculation.  
A report by Al-Bayhaqi on this incident tells us why Ali objected to Ibn Abbas:
“We were informed by Sulayman Ibn Harb… ‘’When news of what Ibn Abbas had said reached Ali, he said, ‘Woe to Ibn Umm al-Fadl (that is, Ibn Abbas)! He is keen to point out [other people’s] MISTAKES.” (Sunan al-Kubra, al-Bayhaqi, volume 8, page 202)
This is also confirmed in Bidayah Wa Nihayah by Ibn Kathir (1301 – 1373 CE):
“News of what Ibn Abbas said reached Ali, he said, ‘Woe to Ibn Umm al-Fadl (that is, Ibn Abbas)!
‘He is keen to discuss (other people’s) IMPERFECTIONS‘.” (Bidayah Wa Nihayah, Ibn Kathir, volume 8, page 331, source)
We see from the above reports that the objection on Ali’s part was not that he rejected Ibn Abbas’s opinion, but rather he was annoyed for Ibn Abbas publicly rebuked him for what he had done to the dead bodies. The most that could be said in regards to the words used is that Ali objected to the way Ibn Abbas expressed himself in public to him.
In fact, in the following Hadith it is clearly demonstrated that Ali agreed with Ibn Abbas’s opinion:
“I would not have burned them because the Messenger of Allah said: ‘Do not punish with the punishment of Allah.’ So this reached ‘Ali, and he said: “IBN ABBAS HAS TOLD THE TRUTH.” (Jami at-Tirmidhi volume 3, Book 15, Hadith 1458. Eng. Tran., Sahih Darussalam, https://sunnah.com/tirmidhi/17/42 )
Sunan Abi Dawud:
“When ‘Ali was informed about it he said: HOW TRULY IBN ABBAS SAID!” (Sunan Abi Dawud Book 39, Hadith 4337. Eng. Tran., Sahih Al-Albani, https://sunnah.com/abudawud/40/1 )
In the above reports it is clear that Ali agrees with Ibn Abbas that he is telling the truth on this matter. Ali Ibn Abi Talib admits that he was “wrong” for burning the dead bodies.  Ali admits that Ibn Abbas’s opinion and his understanding was truthful. Ali’s order of burning the dead bodies was carried out in a state of anger what these people had done.  When he calmed down and Ibn Abbas confronted him about it, he acknowledged that he did wrong. 
It is clear that Ali acknowledged that burning dead persons was not permissible in Islam.
Having analysed the oft quoted Hadith reports that some people were killed due to them leaving Islam, we looked at the report when it was said it showed that the people were Muslims in the sense that they did not reject Islam nor the Prophet (p).
As such, the extra historical sources in relation to the incident revealed that these people were killed as a result of many reasons. One of those were that they held Ali Ibn Abi Talib to be “God”, they gave him Divine qualities. Other sources also seem to reveal further evidence that these group of people were sowing hatred, disparaging the Companions. Causing internal conflict among the Muslims.
Just before Ali Ibn Abi Talib’s incident they also attempted to overthrow and murder the Muslim leader at the time, Uthman Ibn Affan. And they succeeded in the latter.    
We also looked in the surrounding sources on the method of killing. After a careful examination of this incident it is clear that Ali Ibn Abi Talib did not burn anyone alive. The historical reports revealed that Ali killed them. He did not want to bury them, hence he decided to burn their bodies.
For this, Ibn Abbas rebuked Ali, as there is a clear prohibition against this by the Prophet Muhammed (p). Ali agreed that he was wrong for what he did and acknowledged his mistake. 
Thus, we have consulted all the evidences, by doing this, we have learned the correct Islamic ruling that on burning of human, that it is haram (forbidden). That is, it is prohibited in Islam. In fact, past Islamic scholars abhorred such actions. We have seen the Islamic sources, that Prophet Muhammed prohibited the burning of people. Ibn Abbas’s opinion on this matter was the correct one, the same one which the Prophet (p) himself espoused throughout his life.
(1) – “‘Those Who Wage War And Make Mischief’ – Quran 5:33” (Ukil & Urayna)
 It is claimed that Abdullah Ibn Saba only outwardly confessed Islam. In reality he was not a Muslim, as it is reported by some historians:
“…Ibn Saba was said to be a (former) Jew, ‘Outwardly confessing Islam in order to beguile its adherents. Ibn Hazm, Kitab al-Milal wa’;-Nihal…” (Moslem Schisms And Sects (Al-Fark Bain al-Firak) Being The History Of Various Philosophic Systems Developed In Islam by Abu Mansur Abd-al-Kahir Ibn-Tahir al-Baghdadi (d. 1037)
[Translated From The Arabic by Kate Chambers Seelye, PH.D – New York: Columbia University Press, 1920] Part 1 (Vol. 1) page 34)
 “Abu Assim Khushaysh ibn Asram (d. 253 AH) narrated a report about Ali burning some of the companions of Ibn Saba…” (The Biography of Uthman Ibn Affan – Dhun-Noorayn [Darussalam, Translated by Nasir Khattab, edited by Hoda Khattab] by Dr. Ali Muhammad as-Sallabi, page 480)
 They continued with their heretical beliefs even after the demise of Ali Ibn Abi Talib:
“Some of the Sabbabiyya believe that Ali is in the clouds, that the thunder is his voice, and the lightning his whip. Whenever anyone of them hears the sound of thunder he says: Peace be upon you, O Prince of the Faithful! It is told in the name of Amir Ibn Shurahil al-Sha’bi that when Ibn was told: Behold, Ali was killed, he replied:
Even if you bring us his brain in a bag we shall not admit the truth of his death, for he shall not die until he descends from heaven and rules over the world. …” (Moslem Schisms And Sects (Al-Fark Bain al-Firak) Being the History of The Various Philosophic Systems Developed In Islam by Abu Mansur Abd-al-Kahir Ibn Tahir al-Baghdadi (d. 1037) [Tel Aviv: Palestine Publishing Co., Ltd., Porcupine Press, Philadelphia, 1978 – Translated from the Arabic with introduction and notes by Abraham S. Halkin] Part 2 (Vol. 2) page 42 – 43)
 This act is totally forbidden. Ali would never do this. The Prophet got angry ones when some animals were confined without them being able to move. Ali Ibn Abi Talib would never do this. The other majority of reports show that only their dead bodies were burnt.
The incident of smoke is told in the following book, The Compendium Of Knowledge And Wisdom (“Jami’al –Ulum Wal – Hikam”) – Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali [Translated by Abdassamad Clarke – Turath Publishing, 1428/2007], page 250)
 Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali commented on his own report and said, “but that is not a sound narration”. This may be due to him having one with a weak chain. However, this incident is reported by many other scholars with Hasan (good) and Sahih chains. The Compendium Of Knowledge And Wisdom (“Jami’al –Ulum Wal – Hikam”) – Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali [Translated by Abdassamad Clarke – Turath Publishing, 1428/2007], page 250)
 The two reports of Musnad of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, were taken from an article by Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad, (Last accessed 9th March 2017), http://sunnah.org/wp/2016/07/16/does-islam-permit-burning-a-human-being/
 Ibn Abd al-Barr’s report was cited by the late scholar Taha Jabir al-Alalwani (1935 – 2016), May Allah be pleased with him and grant him Jannah, ameen. The Book, Apostasy in Islam: A Historical and Scriptural Analysis [Translated by Nancy Roberts – The International Institute Of Islamic Thought, 1432AH/2011CE] by Taha Jabir Alalwani, page 86 – 87)
 Apostasy in Islam: A Historical and Scriptural Analysis [Translated by Nancy Roberts – The International Institute Of Islamic Thought, 1432AH/2011CE] by Taha Jabir Alalwani, page 82
 The Arabic words used for Ibn Abbas are: “وَيْحُ ابْنِ أُمِّ الْفَضْلِ” – “Wayh Umm Ibn Abbas” (Sunan al-Kubra, Al-Bayhaqi, volume 8, page 202)
 The best interpretation given is the report in Bayhaqi and Bidayah wa Nihayah. Scholars have in the past given their own explanations in regards to the words. An-Nassabah Abu Bakar Muhammad bin Musa Al-Hazimi Al-Hamadani states that one of possible interpretations in regards to this is:
“The possible meaning is ‘Woe to him for being right!’ The latter interpretation implies that “the Hadith had not reached him [`Ali] before”. (al-Hazimi, al-I`tibar fi bayan al-nasikh wal-mansukh min al-aathaar [Edition, 1940], page 195).  http://eshaykh.com/halal_haram/islam-and-burning-people-as-punishment/
 Muhammad Ibn Ali Ibn Adam al-Ethiopi states:
“It may be that he said it – i.e., when ‘Ali said ‘Woe to Ibn ‘Abbas!’ – by way of approving of what he said, and that Ibn Abbas remembered what Ali had forgotten.” (Dhakheerat al-‘Uqba fi Sharh al-Mujtaba, by Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Adam al-Ethiopi, volume 31, page 385)
 Shaykh Abdul-Azeez bin Baaz, (Last accessed 9th March 201) http://www.salafi-dawah.com/why-did-ali-burn-the-followers-of-ibn-saba.html
 Ali Ibn Abi Talib is considered to be the best “judge”. Hence, he most probably done it in a state of not knowing the ruling or state of anger:
“The Messenger of Allah said: The most merciful of my Ummah towards my Ummah is Abu Bakr; the one who adheres most sternly to the religion of Allah is ‘Umar; the most sincere of them in shyness and modesty is ‘Uthman; the best judge is ‘Ali bin Abu Talib…” (Sunan Ibn Majah volume 1, Book 1, Hadith 154. Eng. Tran., Sahih Darussalam, https://sunnah.com/urn/1251540 )
 Ali being the best judge is also reported by Umar Ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph:
“Narrated Ibn Abbas: Umar said, “Our best Qur’an reciter is Ubai and our best judge is Ali…” (Sahih al-Bukhari volume 6, Book 60. Eng. Tran., Hadith 8, https://sunnah.com/urn/41630 )
 Some have claimed that Ibn Saba wasn’t killed because he didn’t come out publicly with his beliefs. This reports states otherwise (and there are many more similar to this):
“The Sabbabiyya are followers of Abdallah Ibn Saba who exaggerated with respect to Ali, maintaining that he was a Prophet. Then he exaggerated still further believing that he was a God. He spread propaganda for this belief among the erring Kufites. The story of this group was reported to Ali…
HOWEVER, ALI FEARED TO BURN THE REST OF THEM LEST THE PEOPLE OF SYRIA REJOICE OVER HIS CALAMITIES AND, MOREOVER, HE DREADED THE OPPOSITION OF HIS ADHERENTS. SO HE BANISHED IBN SABA TO SABBAT-AL-MADAIN.
When Ali was killed, Ibn Saba held that the slain one was not Ali but a devil who appeared to the people in the likeness of Ali. Ali himself ascended to heaven just as Isa Ibn Mariam had ascended there. He said: Just as the Jews and Christians lie in affirming the execution of Isa, so the Nasihs and Khawarij lie in alleging Ali’s assassination.
However, the Jews and Christians saw a crucified person who they confused with Isa. Similarly those who affirm the killing of Ali saw a slain person who resembled him, so that they were of the opinion it was Ali.
But Ali, in truth, ascended to heaven, and he will surely come down to earth and take revenge of his foes.” (Moslem Schisms And Sects (Al-Fark Bain al-Firak) Being the History of The Various Philosophic Systems Developed In Islam by Abu Mansur Abd-al-Kahir Ibn Tahir al-Baghdadi (d. 1037) [Tel Aviv: Palestine Publishing Co., Ltd., Porcupine Press, Philadelphia, 1978 – Translated from the Arabic with introduction and notes by Abraham S. Halkin] Part 2 (Vol. 2) page 41 – 42)
 Imam Ash-Shafa’i (767 – 820 CE) said:
“When the Muslims captured polytheists (enemies in war, warmongers) and want to kill them, they killed them by beheading, but they did NOT go beyond that. They did NOT mutilate them by cutting off hands or feet or any part of the body, or stabbing them in the stomach or burning or drowning or anything beyond what was described, because the Messenger of God forbade mutilation”.
(Ali Ibn Abi Talib [Translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab – International Islamic Publishing House], by Dr. Ali M. Sallabi, volume 1, page 570)
 al-Mawardi (972 – 1058 CE) states:
“burning any of them [the enemy] with fire either dead or alive is IMPERMISSIBLE.” (Al-Mawardi, Al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah, page 72)
 Abu Bakr al-Siddique’s ten commands to his army commander, which included:
“do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy buildings; do not slaughter a sheep or a camel except for food; do not burn or drown palm trees” (al-Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra, volume 9, page 85)
 Although some reports suggest that the incident of Ali Ibn Talib with Ibn Saba group happened in his reign. I believe, all these incidents happened in the reign of Uthman Ibn Affan. There are many reasons. But I will give few, there are many reports where Ali says he was against what the rebels did to Uthman. He goes further and states that he dissuaded and told them not to do anything to Uthman, but they didn’t listen to him.
Furthermore, Ali Ibn Abi Talib had direct connection with the the leaders of that group. One of the main leaders was Abdullah Ibn Saba (Sawda). He was one of the main people who instigated attacks and was involved in the murder of Uthman Ibn Affan. For this reason, I find it inconceivable that Ali described as being the best judge by the Prophet (p), who stood up for the truth, and someone who loved all the companions would entertain murderers in his reign.