The best of this nation after the Prophet (Abu Bakr & ‘Umar?)
There is a Hadith called Hadith Ul-Afdhiliyyah which shows Imam ‘Ali standing on the Mimbar in Kufa and saying that “the best of the nation after the Holy Prophet (S) is Abu Bakr, and ‘Umar.”
Twelvers can take the route of taqiyyah, but as for us would we take it as a different Ta’weel. For example, the increased instances of cursing and enmity due to what happened after the death of the Prophet (S), so Imam Ali said those statements to quell the increasing conflict between the Muslimeen.
What is our perspective as Zaidiyyah regarding this Hadith? The chains are very strong, so I assume we don’t deny that Imam ‘Ali said that the best of the nation after him is Abu Bakr, and ‘Umar.
Thank you for your question! As for the report that you mentioned, we hold it to be inauthentic for several reasons. Before I get into that, I just want to say that when it comes to accepting or rejecting a hadith or report, the Zaydiyya do not rely solely on the chains of narrators. This is because authenticity cannot be assessed by whether the chain meets the criteria of a fallible person or not. This is the mistake of the Sunnis. They falsely assume that simply because so-n-so declared that the chain of the report is 'sahiih' or strong, it necessitates that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, or anyone else uttered it. Now, back to the narration in question.
We say that the report cannot be relied upon for the following top ten reasons:
1. It contradicts a very cardinal belief of the Zaydiyya which says that Imam Ali, upon him be peace, was the best after the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny. This belief is based on the explicit proofs based on the Qur'an, mutawaatir ahadith, and explicit statements of our imams.
2. We have a hadith in the Majmu Imam Zayd in which the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, is reported to have said to Ali, upon him be peace: ((You are my brother, vizier and the best left behind after me.)). This is clear, explicit and unequivocal. So, it wouldn't make sense that Imam Ali, upon him be peace, would contradict that, at least from a Zaydi perspective.
3. One of our great contemporary scholars, the late Sayyid Allama Majiddeen al-Muayyadi (ra) declared the report to be inauthentic in his Majmu' al-Fawaa`id for the reasons we mentioned above.
4. One of our imams, Imam Zayn al-Abideen, Ali b. al-Hussein, upon them be peace, was narrated to have contradicted this report. Al-Hafiz Muhammad b. Sulaymān Al-Kufi narrated in his Manāqib Amīr al-Muminīn with his chain of narration on the authority of Hakīm b. Jubayr, who said:
And in another narration:
Ali b. al-Hussein said: “Oh Hakīm. It has reached me that you all in Kufa have related a hadith in which Ali was said to have preferred Abu Bakr and Umar over himself.” I said: “Yes.” He replied: “It is from Sa’īd b. al-Musayyib who told me that he heard it from Sa’d b. Abi Waqqās who said: ‘I heard Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, say to Ali: ((Your position to me is the same as the position of Aaron was to Moses)).’ After Moses, was there anyone like Aaron among the Children of Israel?! So where does this come from, O Hakīm?”
This narration just supports what we said above regarding the contradiction with established reports to the contrary.
“…Then Ali b. al-Hussein struck my thigh with a blow that made it hurt. He asked: “And who is this one that has the same position with Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, that Aaron had with Moses?”
5. It is noteworthy that I could not find the report "The best of this Ummah..." in any of the 'six authentic' canonical books of hadith. This means that it doesn't reach any of their criteria.
6. The report does not appear in any of the Zaydi corpus of ahadith.
7. If Imam Ali, upon him be peace, considered Abu Bakr and Umar to be the best after the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, why did he refrain from giving the pledge of allegiance to the first for almost six months according to Sunni sources?
8. In Nahj al-Balaagha sermon #3, Imam Ali, upon him be peace, criticised the first two and said: "They knew well that my right to it [i.e. the Caliphate] was like the axe to the grinding wheel..." or something to that effect. If he believed that the first two were the best, why would he have said that?
9. According to Sunni and Zaydi sources, Imam Ali, upon him be peace, was declared the 'self' of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, in the revelation of Q. 3:61. So, how could he have declared anyone other than himself to be the best after the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, if he was the 'self' of the Prophet?
10. Related to #7 and 8 above, Zaydi sources say that Imam Ali, upon him be peace, did not willfully pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr. If Ali believed him to be the best after the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, why would he not willfully pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr after the Prophet's death?
And Allah knows best!
I have one question regarding the robust points you’ve stated and it is regarding point 8.
The sermon of Nahjul Balagha does not check the criteria of Rijaal in the sense that it is narrated by a Kharaji, and if I recall correctly in our works we have a Mursal narration from Imam Zayd (a.s) which denotes similar wording from Imam ‘Ali (a.s) to that of sermon 3.
So when we would be making point 8 it would be by virtue of our epistemological basis of accepting the Mursal narrations of our Imams? Moreover, could one use the similar wording of sermon 3 (with the problematic chain) to act as a Shahid (testimony) to the veracity of the Mursal narration we have.
I think I understand your question. According to the Zaydi standard of accepting ahadith and narrations, we accept the statements and narrations of our imams as a proof. This is due to the adaala of those recognised as imams. Once a person meets the criteria of imam, their narrations are accepted even if they are mursal. That being said, there is still a need to crosscheck the narration against the Qur'an, mutawaatir ahadith, narrated statements of the Companions of the Cloak, statements of previous imams, etc.
Some of our earlier imams related ahadith while citing its chain of narrators to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny, while at the same time related ahadith by simply saying "It has reached us that the Prophet said..." without mentioning the chain. All of such would be permissible according to us given the criteria we mentioned earlier. It some cases, imams and hadith scholars were able to produce chains of narrators for these mursal statements.
In the case of sermon #3, portions of it have been cited by our imams and, I believe, Imam Abdullah b. Hamza (as) produced a chain for it in his Ash-Shafi'. As for whether this chain would be considered 'problematic' would depend on whose criteria you use to determine that. It's really quite subjective. Regardless, it is sufficient to us as proof.
And Allah knows best!
If some one is using this hadith with the multiple strong chains to counter the superiority of Imam Ali. You then can not say it's not reported by Zaidi sources therefore not accepted as that is circular reasoning. You would need a more unbiased and objective reason to reject it. Otherwise the unbiased seeker of knowledge is stuck as to which way to turn.