Sabaites, the proto-Rafidis, and their leader Abdullah Ibn Saba (the closeted-Jew) were the spiritual founders of Rafidism, this has been proven by researchers beyond any doubt.
Abdullah ibn Saba was calling to the Divinity of ‘Ali, but this does not contradict calling to his Imamate/Wilayah. Abdullah ibn Saba left behind him, as his legacy, a subculture of exaggeration and idealisation concerning the Imams; this subculture had a massive influence on the subsequent development of Shi’ism.
As for the Imams of Ahl Al-Bayt, starting with ‘Ali: ‘Ali did not just reject the exaggeration with his personality to the level of divinity, he also rejected the lie that he (i.e. ‘Ali) is a divinely chosen Imam and fierce enemy of Abu Bakr and ‘Omar:
Abu Nu’aym Al-Isfahani (947 – 1038 CE) reports that:
”It reached ‘Ali THAT IBN SABA GAVE HIM PREFERENCE OVER ABU BAKR AND ‘OMAR, 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]
‘Ali opposed the essence of Rafidism:
“Suwayd Ibn Ghaflah said: ‘I entered on ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib during his reign and said: “I passed by some folks who were talking about Abu Bakr and ‘Omar and saying that YOU HAVE A DEEP HATRED FOR BOTH OF THEM, one of those folks is ABDULLAH IBN SABA, ‘Ali Said: “I do not understand this wicked man (Ibn Saba), I seek refuge in Allah from this matter and I only have utmost respect for them. Then he sent after Ibn Saba and exiled him to Al-Madaen and said: ‘He will not live in the same land with me.” He then ascended his pulpit and when the people gathered he complimented both of them (Abu Bakr and ‘Omar) and said nothing but good things about them. Then he said: “If it reaches me that anyone prefers me over them (Shaykhayn, Abu Bakr and ‘Omar) 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]
Cutting a long story short: Sunni sahih reports state that ‘Ali did burn some of them (and expelled others).
Ibn Hajar (1372 – 1449 CE) states:
“Abu Al-Mudhaffar – Al-Isfariyani said in Al-Milal wal-Nihal that those whom ‘Ali burnt were a group of the Raifidis who claimed that he was divine. They were the Saba’is. Their leader was Abdullah ibn Saba.” [Fath al-Bari, volume 12, page 271]
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 burnt them and EXILED THEM FROM THE CITIES. Among those (who he exiled were): Abdullah Ibn Saba, one of the Jews of Sanaa, he exiled him to Sabat; and Abu Bakr al-Arawwas, he exiled him to Jabiya. He burnt 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]
In the most authentic Sunni Hadith reports can be found stating that ‘Ali did indeed burn some of the Sabaites:
It was narrated from Ikrimah (a former Kharijite who repented and became one of the most outstanding students of Ibn Abbas) that ‘Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) burned some people. News of that reached Ibn Abbas and he said: If it were me, I would not have burned them, because the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Do not punish with the punishment of Allah.” And I would have executed them as the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Whoever changes his religion, then execute him.”[Narrated by al-Bukhari, 3017]
But what would shiascan.com be without shiascans/screenshots and narrations from Shia books? Some Shias in their desperation claim that Imam Bukhari lied upon ‘Ali and the narrations about ‘Ali burning heretics are fabrications in Sunni books. To debunk this myth let’s quote Shia sahih narrations only:
Al-Kulayni’s Al-Kafi, vol. 7, p. 258-259, hadith no. 18
عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي عُمَيْرٍ عَنْ هِشَامِ بْنِ سَالِمٍ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع قَالَ أَتَى قَوْمٌ أَمِيرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ع فَقَالُوا السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكَ يَا رَبَّنَا فَاسْتَتَابَهُمْ فَلَمْ يَتُوبُوا فَحَفَرَ لَهُمْ حَفِيرَةً وَ أَوْقَدَ فِيهَا نَاراً وَ حَفَرَ حَفِيرَةً أُخْرَى إِلَى جَانِبِهَا وَ أَفْضَى مَا بَيْنَهُمَا فَلَمَّا لَمْ يَتُوبُوا أَلْقَاهُمْ فِي الْحَفِيرَةِ وَ أَوْقَدَ فِي الْحَفِيرَةِ الْأُخْرَى [نَاراً] حَتَّى مَاتُوا
A group came to Ameer Al-Mu’mineen (عليه السلام), and they said: “Peace be upon you, O our Lord (rabbanaa)! So he asked for their repentance, but they refused to do so. So he dug a ditch for them and lit a fire in it and dug a ditch to its other side and conveyed between them. So when they did not repent he threw them in the ditch and lit in the other ditch until they died. [Al-Kulayni’s Al-Kafi, vol. 7, p. 258-259, hadith no. 18, authenticated with a hassan i.e. good good/reliable grading by Al-Majlisi in his Mir’at Al-‘Uqul, vol. 23, p. 401]
Mu’jam Rijal Al-Hadith by “Ayatollah” Al-Khoie, vol. 11, p. 205.
Al-Khoie quotes from Kashshi’s Rijal, p. 107, hadith no. 171 with one of the most impeccable chains you can get in Shia hadith books. This is like their “golden” chain, plus the following hadith goes through two different routes i.e. it’s not some isolated narration:
1.) حدثني محمد بن قولويه، قال حدثني سعد بن عبد الله، قال حدثنا يعقوب بن يزيد و محمد بن عيسى، عن ابن أبي عمير، عن هشام بن سالم، قال : سمعت أبا عبد الله (عليه السلام) يقول و هو يحدث أصحابه بحديث عبد الله بن سبإ و ما ادعى من الربوبية في أمير المؤمنين علي بن أبي طالب، فقال إنه لما ادعى ذلك فيه استتابه أمير المؤمنين (عليه السلام) فأبى أن يتوب فأحرقه بالنار.
Hisham bin Salim, who said that he heard it from Abi Abdillah (Ja’far Al-Sadiq) when he told that Abdullah bin Saba’ called (to people) the lordship/divinity of the Chief of the Believers, ‘Ali. Upon that ‘Ali ordered him to repent, but he refused. Then ‘Ali let him burn in fire.” [Kashshi’s Rijal, p. 107, hadith no. 171, Sahih (Authentic) to Al- Khoie]
This is a known fact that ‘Ali burnt either Abdullah bin Saba or the Saba’iyyah (those who followed him). There is a difference of opinion regarding if he (ibn Saba’) was exiled to Mada’in, but there is no difference of opinion, neither in Sunni nor Shia text that ‘Ali did burn a group of them.