Hafiz ibn Hajr quotes Ali ibn Abi Talib رضي الله عنه:
“I will lash anyone who prefers me over Abu Bakr and Umar, the lashing of a slanderer.”
(Lisan al-Mizan, Vol. III P. 290)
Hafidh ibn Katheer in al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya” vol 7, chapter wrote:
‘And it’s proven from him [Ali] in tawatur* form, that He said on his pulpit in Kufa: “O people! The best one in this Ummah after its Prophet is Abu Bakr, then Umar. And if I wanted to say you the third name, I would do that.’
Ali’s famous statement on the minbar of Kufa:
“The best of this Ummah after its Prophet is Abu Bakr and then Umar”,
…was reported by 21 Shia men:
Muhammad Ibn Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Abdu Khair, Abu Juhaifa Wahb Al-Sewai, Al-Nazal Ibn Sabura, Abu Al-Ja’d, Amr Ibn Huraith , Alqama Ibn Qais, Abu Mijlaz, Abdullah Ibn Salamah, Saed Ibn Qaes Al-khariqi, Abdullah Ibn Zurair Al-Qhafiqi, Al-Hakam Ibn Hajk, Zur Ibn Hubaish, Suwaid Ibn Ghafla, Amr Ibn Madikarib, Al-Harith, Ali Ibn Rabea Al-Walibi, Masada Al-Bujali, Abu Kathir, Abu Ishaq Al-Sabei, Amr Ibn Shurahabil
The narrators include his sons al-Hasan and al-Husayn (رضي الله عنهما).
Reference: Bukhari , Musnad of Imam Ahmad, Ibn Abi Asim , Ibn Abi Shaibah, Ibn Asakir and others]
One cannot deny such a mutawattir narration and claim that all 21 narrators were liars. It is both illogical and impossible that 21 Shia men would all agree to lie and fabricate this narration in the name of Ali :rta: .One might as well deny the Quran!!
This is why Abdul Razaq Al-Sanani, a prominent Muslim scholar with Shia tendencies declared by Al-Khoei in his book, said:
‘My breast was never open to say that Ali is better than Abu Bakr and Umar, so May Allah have mercy on them , and may Allah have mercy on Uthman and Ali. The one who does not like them then he is not a believer. The firmest of my actions is my love to them”. He also said: “ I say that the two sheikhs (i.e Abu Bakr and Umar) are better because Ali made them better than himself. It is sufficient shame for me to be different than Ali .’
The Shia might try to explain such a solid Sahih narration away with their typical Taqiyyah excuse, but this is very silly because Ali was so brave to face the idolaters and stood in the leading front in the Battle of Badr and in the day of Hijra..etc. even when he was a young man then!
Muhammad ibn Al-Hanafyyah the son of Ali narrates a dialog between him and his father, have the same meaning, as his son asked him “O father who is the best one among people after the Prophet (ﷺ)” Ali said “O son, don’t you know ?” he said “No”, Ali said “Abu Bakir” he said “then who”, Ali said, “then Umar”.
This resource was narrated by his son and the Hamadanis (sincere companions of Ali), was Ali practicing Taqiyyah guiles before his sons?!
A tawatur of a lesser degree is that which Ali said in the funeral of Umar infront of the people:
‘There is no man on this earth whom I would like to meet Allah with his sheet (i.e his actions) except for this one who is covered by the cloth.’
This has been narrated from Imam Jafar Al-Sadiq from His Father Al-Baqir from his Jabir from Ali by the following narrators:
(1) Hatim Ibn Ismail (2) Sulayman Ibn Bilal (3) Fudayl Ibn Marzooq (4) Anas Ibn Eyadh Al-Laythi (5) Sufyan Ibn Uyaynah (6) Wuhayb Ibn Khalid.
It has also been narrated from Imam Al-Baqir by the following narrators:
(1) His son as mentioned above (2) Abdul Wahid Ibn Ayman (3) Amru Ibn Dinar (4) Hajjaj Ibn Dinar Al-Wasiti (5) Abu Hanifa
It has also been narrated from Imam Zayd Ibn Ali (Imam Baqir’s brother).
This has been narrated from Ali Ibn Abi Talib by the following narrators:
(1) Jabir as mentioned above (2) His son Muhammad (3) Ibn Abbas (4) Ibn Umar
A similar thing has been mentioned in Nahjul-Balaghah:
Ali said: ‘May Allah reward such and such man (*) who straightened the curve, cured the disease, abandoned mischief and established the Sunnah. He departed (from this world) with untarnished clothes and little shortcomings. He achieved good (of this world) and remained safe from its evils. He offered Allah’s obedience and feared Him as He deserved. He went away and left the people in dividing ways wherein the misled cannot obtain guidance and the guided cannot attain certainty.’
(*) Ibn Abi’l-Hadid has written (in Sharh Nahj al-balaghah, vol. 14, pp. 3-4) that the reference here is to the second Caliph Umar, and that these sentences have been uttered in his praise as indicated by the word ‘`Umar’ written under the word ‘such and such’ in as-Sayyid ar-Radi’s own hand in the manuscript of Nahj al-balaghah written by him.
Prior to this, when Ibn Abbas was at Umar’s death bed he said to him:
‘O Chief of the believers! Never mind what has happened to you, for you have been in the company of Allah’s Apostle and you kept good relations with him and you parted with him while he was pleased with you. Then you were in the company of Abu Bakr and kept good relations with him and you parted with him (i.e. he died) while he was pleased with you. Then you were in the company of the Muslims, and you kept good relations with them, and if you leave them, you will leave them while they are pleased with you.’
Detailed research on the chains of Hadith-ul-Afdaliyyah (Narration of Superiority)
________________________________________________________________*Being conveyed by witnesses so numerous at every stage of transmission that their sheer numbers obviate the possibility of forgery or alteration.