Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 H) claims:
قال الرافضي الثالث انه كان اعلم الناس بعد رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم
و الجواب أن اهل السنة يمنعون ذلك و يقولون ما اتفق عليه علماؤهم أن اعلم الناس بعد رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم أبو بكر ثم عمر و قد ذكر غير واحد الإجماع على أن أبا بكر اعلم الصحابة كلهم
The Rafidhi said: “The third (point) is that he (‘Ali) is the most knowledgeable of mankind after the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him.”
The answer is that the Ahl al-Sunnah reject that and say what their scholars unanimously agree upon that the most knowledgeable of mankind after the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, was Abu Bakr, then ‘Umar. Several people have mentioned the consensus upon the fact that Abu Bakr was the most knowledgeable of all the Sahabah altogether.1
It is one thing to make a claim. It is another for it to be valid. In exactly what way was Abu Bakr, for instance, more knowledgeable than Amir al-Muminin, ‘alaihi al-salam? ‘Ali is the best judge of this entire Ummah – a far better judge than either Abu Bakr or ‘Umar. Justice dispensation, of course, requires very advanced knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Since Amir al-Muminin was a better judge than both Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, he definitely had better knowledge of the Book of Allah and the traditions of His Messenger, sallallahu ‘alaihi wa alihi, than the duo.
Moreover, while ‘Ali had perfect knowledge of the Qur’an and Sunnah, as well as that of all previous Scriptures and Sunnahs, and issued public challenges to this effect, neither Abu Bakr nor ‘Umar even knew the meaning of “herbage” in the Book of Allah! ‘Umar, in particular, lacked knowledge of such topics in Islamic jurisprudence as tayammum, kalalah, riba, inheritance of the grandfather, and whether pregnancy could be only for six months or not! Yet, he was supposedly more knowledgeable than ‘Ali according to the weird logic of some folks.
Our dear Shaykh has cited a general Sunni clerical consensus about Abu Bakr’s scientific superiority over the Ummah. The key question, however, is whether the Messenger of Allah was part of this consensus. If he was not, then such an agreement lacks any merit. Imam Ahmad (d. 241 H) records the Prophet’s opinion on the matter:
حدثنا عبد الله حدثني أبي ثنا أبو أحمد ثنا خالد يعني بن طهمان عن نافع بن أبي نافع عن معقل بن يسار قال: وضأت النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم ذات يوم فقال هل لك في فاطمة رضي الله عنها تعودها فقلت نعم فقام متوكئا علي فقال أما انه سيحمل ثقلها غيرك ويكون أجرها لك قال فكأنه لم يكن على شيء حتى دخلنا على فاطمة عليها السلام فقال لها كيف تجدينك قالت والله لقد اشتد حزني واشتدت فاقتي وطال سقمي قال أبو عبد الرحمن وجدت في كتاب أبي بخط يده في هذا الحديث قال أو ما ترضين أني زوجتك أقدم أمتي سلما وأكثرهم علما وأعظمهم حلما
‘Abd Allah (b. Ahmad) – my father (Ahmad b. Hanbal) - Abu Ahmad – Khalid b. Tahman – Nafi’ b. Abi Nafi’ – Ma’qil b. Yasar:
I was with the Prophet, peace be upon him, one day. Then he said, “Would you like to visit Faṭimah, may Allah be pleased with her?” I said, “Yes.” So, he stood up, leaning on me, and said, “But, someone else apart from you will soon bear its weight and its reward will be for you.” It was as though I was carrying nothing until we entered upon Faṭimah, peace be upon her. He (the Prophet) said to her, “How do you feel?” She answered, “By Allah, my grief has intensified, my want has worsened and my sickness has lasted long.” He said, “Are you not satisfied that I have married you to the one who was the first of my Ummah to accept Islam, and the most knowledgeable of them, and the most clement of them?”2
Imam al-Haythami (d. 807 H) states about this report:
رواه أحمد والطبراني برجال وثقوا
Ahmad and al-Tabarani recorded it with narrators who have (all) been graded thiqah (trustworthy).3
At another place, al-Haythami again comments on the same hadith with the same chain:
رواه أحمد والطبراني وفيه خالد بن طهمان وثقه أبو حاتم وغيره وبقية رجاله ثقات
Ahmad and al-Tabarani narrated it. In the chain is Khalid b. Tahman. Abu Hatim and others declared him thiqah (trustworthy). The remaining narrators are (all) thiqah (trustworthy).4
But Shaykh al-Arnauṭ disagrees:
Its chain is dha’if.5
Strangely, al-Arnauṭ gives no reason for his verdict, especially in the case of such a sensitive hadith! Meanwhile ‘Allamah al-Albani (d. 1420 H) seems to have noticed this omission. In his al-DHa’ifah, after quoting the exact report above, the ‘Allamah states:
أخرجه أحمد (5/ 26) ، ومن طريقه ابن عساكر (12/ 89/ 1) .
قلت: وهذا إسناد ضعيف؛ رجاله ثقات؛ غير خالد بن طهمان؛ فضعفه الأكثرون. وقال ابن معين: "ضعيف خلط قبل موته بعشر سنين، وكان قبل ذلك ثقة".
Ahmad (5/26) recorded it, and from his route Ibn Asakir (12/89/1).
I say: This chain is dha’if. Its narrators are thiqah (trustworthy), except Khalid b. Tahman for the majority declared him dha’if. Ib Ma’in said, “He is dha’if. He became confused ten years before his death. But, before that he was thiqah (trustworthy).”6
So, both Imam al-Haythami and ‘Allamah al-Albani agree that all the narrators except Khalid were thiqah (trustworthy). However, while al-Haythami maintains that even Khalid was graded unconditionally thiqah (trustworthy), al-Albani argues that the majority actually considered him dha’if. In a rather weird move, ‘Allamah al-Albani makes no attempt to, at least, list out the names of some of these“majority”. The best that he has offered is only one name: Yahya b. Ma’in! Interestingly, the same ‘Allamah even goes ahead to refute himself elsewhere:
وأما أبو العلاء الخفاف واسمه خالد بن طهمان فهو صدوق، لكنه كان اختلط.
As for Abu al-‘Ala al-Khafaf, his name is Khalid b. Tahman, and he is saduq (very truthful), although he became confused.7
This is the correct view, according to al-Hafiz (d. 852 H) as well:
خالد بن طهمان الكوفي وهو خالد بن أبي خالد وهو أبو العلاء الخفاف مشهور بكنيته صدوق رمي بالتشيع ثم اختلط
Khalid b. Tahman al-Kufi, and he is Khalid b. Abi Khalid, and he is Abu al-‘Ala al-Khafaf, well-known with his kunya (nickname): Saduq (very truthful), accused of Shi’ism. He later became confused.8
Imam al-Dhahabi (d. 748 H) has the same opinion:
خالد بن طهمان أبو العلاء الكوفي، الخفاف عن أنس، وعدة، وعنه الفريابي،وأحمد بن يونس، صدوق شيعي، ضعفه ابن معين.
Khalid b. Tahman Abu al-‘Ala al-Kufi, al-Khafaf, he narrated from Anas and a number (of others) while al-Faryabi and Ahmad b. Yunus (also) narrated from him: Saduq (very truthful), a Shi’i. Ibn Ma’in declared him dha’if.9
Apparently, Khalid was thiqah (trustworthy) or at least saduq (very truthful). However, ten years before his death, his memory faded. In line with the Sunni hadith principles, when a reliable narrator with a failed memory transmits a report, we first ask if the specific report under study was narrated by him before or during his illness. If there is clear evidence that he transmitted the hadith during his days with a sound memory, then it is accepted from him unconditionally. However, in all other cases, a further question is asked. Was his memory failure a serious one or not? The answer to that, as we will prove shortly, determines the final step. Meanwhile, ‘Allamah al-Albani here gives explanations on the case of a narrator with a serious memory failure:
قلت: وهو ثقة لولا اختلاطه، ومثله من المختلطين له ثلاث حالات:
1 - أن يعرف أنه حدث بالحديث قبل الاختلاط.
2 - أن يعرف أنه حدث به بعد الاختلاط.
3 - أن لا يعرف عنه لا هذا ولا هذا.
ففي الحالة الأولى فقط يحتج به؛ دون الحالتين الأخريين.
I say: He is thiqah (trustworthy) despite his confusion. A confused narrator like him has three statuses:
1. To know that he narrated the hadith before the confusion.
3. To know that he narrated the hadith during the confusion.
5. Not knowing whether he narrated it before or after.
It is only in the first status that his ahadith are accepted as hujjah (authority), and not in the other two statuses.10
The first question then is: did Khalid narrate Hadith al-‘Ilm to Abu Ahmad before his confusion or otherwise?
There is a difference of opinion on this. For instance, Imam al-Ghazali (d. 505 H) states:
ولأحمد والطبراني من حديث معقل بن يسار وضأت النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ذات يوم فقال هل لك في فاطمة تعودها الحديث وفيه أما ترضين أن زوجتك أقدم أمتي سلما وأكثرهم علما وأعظمهم حلما وإسناده صحيح
Ahmad and al-Tabarani narrated from the hadith of Ma’qil b. Yasar: “I helped the Prophet, peace be upon him, to perform ablution one day. Then he said, ‘Would you like to visit Faṭimah?’” Part of the hadith is this: “‘Are you not satisfied that I have married you to the one who was the first of my Ummah to accept Islam, and the most knowledgeable of them, and the most clement of them?’” Its chain is sahih.11
He apparently believes that Abu Ahmad heard the hadith from Khalid before the latter’s confusion. Meanwhile, ‘Allamah al-Albani and Shaykh al-Arnauṭ disagree. To them, he transmitted the report during the last ten years of his life. For the purpose of our research, we stick with the duo. Therefore, we will proceed in our investigation on the basis of an unproved assumption that Khalid narrated Hadith al-‘Ilm with a failed memory.
The next question then is: did Khalid have a serious memory problem? Imam Ibn Hibban says “no”:
خالد بن طهمان .... يخطئ ويهم
Khalid b. Tahman.... He made mistakes and hallucinated.12
That expression is used only in mild cases. Where the memory failure is serious, the muhadithun of the Ahl al-Sunnah employ terms like “he made mistakes a lot”13 and “he hallucinated a lot”14. Khalid did NOT make mistakes a lot, and never hallucinated a lot. Truly, his memory failure caused him to make mistakes, and to hallucinate. But, things were never serious. His mistakes and hallucinations were only occasional. Therefore, he still transmitted completely authentic ahadith during those last ten years of his lifetime. So, ‘Allamah al-Albani tells us about another narrator who was exactly like Khalid:
والجريري- واسمه سعيد بن إياس- محتج به في "الصحيحين "؛ وإن كان اختلط قبل موته بثلاث سنين، ولكن لم يفحش اختلاطه، وكأنه لهذا احتج به ابن حبان في "صحيحه " تبعاً لـ "الصحيحين "، وأكثر هو عنه، فمثله ينبغي أن يحتج به ما لم يظهر خطؤه، فإذا توبع أو كان له شواهد- كما هو الشأن في حديثه هذا-؛ فلا يضر غرابته فيه إن شاء الله تعالى.
Al-Jurayri – and his name is Sa’id b. Iyas – IS RELIED UPON AS A HUJJAH IN THE TWO SAHIHS, despite he became confused three years before his death. HOWEVER, HIS CONFUSION WAS NOT SERIOUS. Perhaps, it was for this reason that Ibn Hibban has (also) relied upon him as a hujjah in his Sahih, copying the two Sahihs, and has narrated a lot from him. In the case of a narrator like him, it is appropriate to take him as a hujjah where his mistake is not evident. So, where he is supported by another narrator in narrating the same report from the same person, or there are corroborating reports – as in the case of this hadith – then his oddness does no harm to it insha Allah Ta’la.15
Armed with this information, one can confidently say that Hadith al-‘Ilm, as narrated by Khalid – even without support or corroboration – is at least hasan in itself. Imam al-Tirmidhi16 and Shaykh Dr. Asad17 also grade the chain of Khalid b. Tahman as hasan, while Imam al-Hakim maintains that his sanad is actually solidly sahih18. As such, the verdicts of both ‘Allamah al-Albani and Shaykh al-Arnauṭ concerning Hadith al-‘Ilm are hasty and contrary to evidence. What is more? There also are a lot of corroborating reports testifying for the hadith!
‘Allamah al-Hindi (d. 975 H) records one of such corroborating ahadith:
عن علي قال : خطب أبو بكر وعمر فاطمة إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم فأبى رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم عليهما فقال عمر : أنت لها يا علي قال : مالي من شيء إلا درعي وجملي وسيفي فتعرض علي ذات يوم لرسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم فقال : يا علي هل لك من شيء ؟ قال : جملي ودرعي أرهنهما فزوجني رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم فاطمة فلما بلغ فاطمة ذلك بكت فدخل عليها رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم فقال : ما لك تبكين يا فاطمة والله أنكحتك أكثرهم علما وأفضلهم حلما وأقدمهم سلما وفي لفظ : أولهم سلما
Abu Bakr and ‘Umar sought the hand of Faṭimah in marriage from the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him. But, the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, refused their proposals. So, ‘Umar said, “You are for her, O ‘Ali.” He (‘Ali) said, “What do I have apart from my armour, my camel and my sword?” So, ‘Ali approached the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, one day and he (the Prophet) said, “O ‘Ali! Do you have anything?” He replied, “My camel and my armour.” I mortgaged both of them. So, the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, married Faṭimah to me. When the news got to Faṭimah, she wept. As a result, the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, went to her and said, “Why are you weeping, O Faṭimah? I swear by Allah, I have married you to the most knowledgeable of them, and the most clement of them, and the first of them to accept Islam.”19
ابن جرير وصححه والدولابي في الذرية الطاهرة
Ibn Jarir (al-Tabari) recorded it AND DECLARED IT SAHIH. Al-Dawlabi also recorded it in al-Dhurriyah al-Tahirah.20
Imam al-Tabarani (d. 360 H) records another:
حدثنا إسحاق بن إبراهيم الدبري عن عبد الرزاق عن وكيع بن الجراح قال أخبرني شريك عن أبي إسحاق: أن عليا رضي الله عنه لما تزوج فاطمة رضي الله عنها قالت للنبي صلى الله عليه و سلم : زوجتنيه أعيمش عظيم البطن فقال النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم : لقد زوجتكه وإنه لأول وإنه لأول أصحابي سلما وأكثرهم علما وأعظمهم حلما
Ishaq b. Ibrahim al-Dabri – ‘Abd al-Razzaq – Waki’ b. Al-Jarrah – Sharik – Abu Ishaq:
Verily, ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, when he married Faṭimah, may Allah be pleased with her, she said to the Prophet, peace be upon him, “You married me to a bleary-eyed man with a big belly.” So, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “I have married you to him because he was the first of my Sahabah to accept Islam, and the most knowledgeable of them, and the most clement of them.”21
Commenting on this report, Imam al-Haythami states:
رواه الطبراني وهو مرسل صحيح الإسناد
Al-Tabarani records it, and it is mursal WITH A SAHIH CHAIN.22