Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal narrated in “Fazail as-Sahaba” (1033) through Muhammad b. Ja’far Ghundar who said: Shu’ba narrated to him from Abu Ishaq al-Sabee’i from ‘Abdur Rahman b. Yazeed from ‘Alqama b. Qais from ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud who said:
كُنَّا نَتَحَدَّثُ أَنَّ أَفْضَلَ أَهْلِ الْمَدِينَةِ عَلِيُّ بْنُ أَبِي طَالِبٍ
“We used to talk that the best from the people of Madinah is ‘Ali.”
However, Ibn Battah narrates this same narration of Imam Ahmad with the exact same sanad with a different wording.
Ibn Battah narrates this in his “Al-Ibanah” (8/287-288) through Abu ‘Ali b. Sawwaf from ‘Abdullah b. Imam Ahmad through the same chain as in Fazail as-Sahaba but the wording is as below:
كنا نتحدث أن أقضى أهل المدينة علي بن أبي طالب
“We used to talk that the best Qadhi from the people of Madinah is ‘Ali b. Abi Talib.”
Ibn ‘Asakir reports in “Tarikh Dimashq” (42/404) through Muhammad b. ‘Uthman b. Abi Shayba from his father from Muhammad b. Jafar Ghudur similarly but with the text mentioning “Best Qadhi from people of Madina” not “best of people of Madina”.
So it seems the mistake here is not from Ghundar, the student of Imam Ahmad, or from Abdullah the son of Imam Ahmad rather apparently it is from a scribe who changed aqdha into afzal as both these words looks similar.
This word “afdhal” is also in Musnad al-Bazzar (1616) and from there it is quoted in Kashf al-Astar (2550) through Yahya b. Sakan from Shu’ba from Abu Ishaq from ‘Abdur Rahman b. Yazeed from ‘Alqama from Ibn Mas’ud.
However, Ibn Hajar in “al-Mutalib al-‘Aaliya” (16/75) and al-Buseeri in “Ithaf al-Khiyara al-Maharah” (7/189) quotes it, from Musnad al-Bazzar, with the word “Aqdha ahl al-Madeenah”.
Note that Yahya b. Sakan is a disputed narrator.
Abu Ja’far al-Qatee’i narrates in his Ziyadat on Fazail As-Sahaba (1097) through ‘Abdullah b. Muhammad Abul Qasim al-Baghwi from his grandfather Ahmad b. Manee’ from Abu Qutn from Shu’ba b. Hajjaj similarly with the wording “the best of people of Madinah”.
This is also change in wording because of the following reasons:
- The Shaykh of al-Qatee’i, Abul Qasim al-Baghwi himself recorded this in his book “Mu’jam as-Sahaba” (4/361) with the same sanad and matan.
- Ahmad b. Manee’ the grandfather of Abul Qasim al-Baghwi recorded this in his Musnad, as quoted by Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani in al-Mutalib al-‘Aaliya (3924) and al-Buseeri Itthaf al-Mahira (6643), through Abu Qutn from Shu’ba.
- Ibn Sa’d also quote this narration in Tabaqat (2/258) through Abu Qutn the shaykh of Ahmad b. Manee’ with the correct wording “the best Judge among the people of Madina”’.
So it is clear that this also a mistake from a scribe or a narrator from later generation.
Others who have narrated this narration:
- Al-Hakim narrates in “al-Mustadrak” (4656) through Adam b. Abi Iyas from Shu’ba with wording that the best Judge from the people of Madina was ‘Ali.
- Ibn Sa’d narrates in “Tabaqat” (2/258) and al-Baladhuri in “Ansab al-Ashraf” (2/97) through Wahb b. Jareer from Shu’ba with the wording same as the previous one.
- Ibn ‘Abdul Barr narrates in “al-Istai’ab” (3/1103) with his sanad through Muslim b. Ibrahim from Shu’ba similarly.
Admission of Ibn Abd al-Barr:
Hafiz Ibn ‘Abdul Barr states in “al-Istidhkar” (5/109):
وَهَذَا عِنْدِي حيث فِيهِ تَصْحِيفٌ مِمَّنْ رَوَاهُ عَنْ شُعْبَةَ هَكَذَا وإنما المحفوظ فيه عن بن مَسْعُودٍ أَنَّهُ قَالَ كُنَّا نَتَحَدَّثُ أَنَّ أَمْضَى أَهْلِ الْمَدِينَةِ عَلِيُّ بْنُ أَبِي طَالِبٍ هَكَذَا مِنَ الْقَضَاءِ لَا مِنَ الْفَضْلِ
“In this narration there is manipulation (TasHeef) by those who narrated it from Shu’ba with this wording. The preserved wording through Ibn Mas’ud is that he said “We used to talk the best Qadhi from the people of Madinah is ‘Ali b. Abi Talib” in this way from Qadha not from Fadhl.”
In summary we can say that this narration with the wording of Afdhaliyya comes in the following sources
- Yahya b. Sakan from Shu’ba as reported in Bazzar and quoted in different Zawaid compiled on Bazzar. So the printed Musnad al-Bazzar has the word “Afdhal” along with the Kashf al-Astar and Majma’ az-Zawaid by al-Haythami, while al-Buseeri in Zawaid al-‘Asharah and Ibn Hajar in “al-Mutalib al-‘Aaliya” quote it from Musnad al-Bazzar with the phrase “Aqdha ahl al-Madinah.
- Muhammad b. Jafar Ghundur from Shu’ba as reported in Musnad Ahmed, al-Ibana of Ibn Battah and Tarikh Dimashq. So Fazail al-Sahaba has the word “Afdhal” while Ibanah of Ibn Battah and Tarikh Dimashq of Ibn ‘Asakir has the phrase “Aqdha ahl al-Madina”.
- Abu Ja’far al-Qatee’i included it in Zawaid on fazail al-Sahaba through Abul Qasim al-Baghwi from his grandfather from Abu Qutn with the phrase of Afdhaliyyah. But Abul Qasim al-Baghwi himself quotes in Mu’jam as-Sahaba, and from him Ibn ‘Asakir in tarikh dimashq, and also his grandfather himself included in his Musnad with the wording of Qadha not Fadl.
This is enough to prove that this is a mistake from some narrator or scribe.
Correct opinion of ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud :
Another thing which makes this argument strong is that Ibn mas’ud would consider ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan to be superior than ‘Ali as narrated in numerous books of hadith. Hence, Ibn Abi Shaiba narrates in Musannaf (32032, 37076), Ahmad in “Fazail” (731), Al-Tabrani in “al-kabeer” (9/169), Al-Khallal in “As-Sunnah (543,544,558) through A’amash from ‘Abdullah b. Sinan from Abdullah b. Mas’ud that he said when he ‘Uthman selected as leader:
مَا أَلَوْنَا عَنْ أَعْلَانَا ذَا فُوقٍ
“We did not show leniency of an inch from (choosing) the best of us”
Ahmad also narrates “Fazail” (747), al-Tabrani in “Kabeer” (9/170), Abu Nu’aim in “al-Hilya” (7/244), al-Bayhaqi in “al-Madkhal ila al-Sunan” (75), al-Lalkai in “Sharh al-Usul” (2555), al-Aajurri in “Al-Shari’ah” (1213), al-Khallal in “as-Sunnah” (542) through Mis’ar from ‘Abdul Malik b. Maisira from Nazzaal b. Saburah that he heard from ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud when ‘Uthman was selected as Caliph that he said:
أَمَّرْنَا خَيْرَ مَنْ بَقِيَ وَلَمْ نَأْلُ
“We selected the best of us over us and we did not show leniency.”
Imam Ahmad narrates in Fazail as-Sahaba (759), al-Tabrani in “al-Kabeer” (9/168-169) and others through ‘Aasim b. Abi Nujud from Abu Waa’il from Ibn Mas’ud that he said, when ‘Uthman was chosen as caliph:
أَمَّا بَعْدُ فَإِنَّ أَمِيرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عُمَرَ بْنَ الْخَطَّابِ، مَاتَ، فَلَمْ نَرَ نَشِيجًا أَكْثَرَ مِنْ يَوْمَئِذٍ، وَإِنَّا اجْتَمَعْنَا أَصْحَابَ مُحَمَّدٍ وَلَمْ نَأْلُ عَنْ خَيْرِنَا ذَا فُوقٍ، فَبَايَعْنَاهُ فَبَايِعُوا أَمِيرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عُثْمَانَ بْنَ عَفَّانَ
“Indeed Ameer al-Mumineen ‘Umar bin al-Khattab has died, so we did not know people crying on any day as on that day. We the companions of Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) gathered and did not turned even an inch in choosing the best of us. So we gave the pledge of allegiance to Ameer al-Mumineen ‘Uthman…”
This was famous from ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud so much so that Ahmad b. Hanbal took it as evidence to establish his view that ‘Uthman was superior to ‘Ali. See “Al-Sunnah” (527, 539, 563) by al-Khallal. And Allah knows best