Hafidh ibn Hajr quotes Ali :
ولا يبلغني عن أحد يفضلني عليهما إلا جلدته حد المفتري
“I will lash anyone who prefers me over Abu Bakr and Omar, the lashing of a slanderer.”
[Lisan al-Mizan, Vol. III P. 290]
Hafidh ibn Katheer in “Bidaya wal Nihaya” vol 7, chapter “شيء من فضائل أمير المؤمنين علي بن أبي طالب” wrote:
وقد ثبت عنه بالتواتر أنه قال على منبر الكوفة: أيها الناس! إن خير هذه الأمة بعد نبيها أبو بكر ثم عمر، ولو شئت أن أسمي الثالث لسميت
“And it’s proven from him [Ali] in “tawatur” form, that He said on the pulpit in Kufa: “O people! The best one in this Ummah after her Prophet is Abu Bakr , then Omar , and if I wanted to say you the third name, I would do that.”
جاء في ( طوق الحمامة ) ليحيى بن حمزة الزبيدي عن سويد بن غفلة الجعفي الكوفي المتوفى عام (80هـ/699م) أنه دخل على علي-رضي الله عنه- في إمارته، فقال: إني مررت بنفر يذكرون أبا بكر و عمر بسوء، ويروون أنك تضمر لهما مثل ذلك، منهم عبد الله بن سبأ، فقال علي: مالي ولهذا الخبيث الأسود، ثم قال : معاذ الله أن أضمر لهما إلا الحسن الجميل، ثم أرسل إلى ابن سبأ فسيره إلى المدائن، ونهض إلى المنبر، حتى اجتمع الناس أثنى عليهما خيرا، ثم قال : إذا بلغني عن أحد أنه يفضلني عليهما جلدته حد المفتري –
الهي ظهير، إحسان، السنة والشيعة، نشر إدارة ترجمة السنة- الهور.
In ‘Tuq Al-Hamamh’ by Yahya bin Hamzah Al-Zobaydi on the authority of bin Ghaflah Al-Jo’fi Al-Kufi (80H) who said that he entered upon Ali – may Allah be pleased with him and said: ‘I passed by some men. among them was Abdallah Ibn Saba’, who were talking negatively about Abu Bakr and Omar saying that you [Ali] hold the same feelings towards them.’ Ali replied: ‘What does this wretched black man (Ibn Saba’s mother was Ethiopian) want from me?’ He then said: “I seek refuge in Allah in holding anything but beautiful respect for them both.” Then he sent after Ibn Saba and exiled him to Al-Mada’in (former capital of the Persian empire) and ascended the pulpit until the people were gathered, he then praised Abu Bakr and Omar, then he said: ‘If it reaches me that anyone prefers me over them then I shall lash them as they do with the slandering liar.’
NOTE: In fact this very same narration has been narrated by through different channels with authentic chains such as in:
‘Al-Seerah’ by Abu Ishaq al-Fizari who narrates almost the same narration above on the authority of Shu’ubah from Salamah bin Kaheel from abu Al-Za’araa from Zaid ibn Wahb. The grading: narrators are trustworthy. Al-Khateeb made Takhreej for it in “al-Kifayah” p. 376 and said that Abu ‘Abdullah al-Boushanji graded it as Sahih, Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah al-Imam said in the commentary: It is narrated through other chains, it is Thabit.
So what is the ruling of denying tawatur?
Let me rephrase, what is the ruling of a narration that was narrated by people who hold TASHAYYU’ beliefs (Shi’ism of the past i.e. preferring Ali over other Sahaba in some sense) yet collectively narrated what Ali bin Abi Taalib (RA) said in Kufa:
‘’The best of this Ummah after its Prophet is Abu Bakr and then Omar”.
[Bukhari , Ahmed, Ibn Abi Asim , Ibn Abi Shaiba, Ibn Asakir and others]
This has more than 20 narrators who are considered Shia, and the Shia narrators are:
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
Some of the sub-narrators of the ahadith that show Ali (radiAllahuanh) praising Abu Bakr (radiAllahuanh) and Umar (radiAllahuanh):
First generation: Some of them are: Muhammad Ibn Al-Hanafiyyah (Ali’s son, shia), ‘Amr bin Huraith (shia), Wahb As-Siwa’i (shia), Abi Juhaifah (a great companion of Ali, shia), Abd-Khair al-Hamadani (shia), Habbah bin Juwain. Among these are people who were from the shia of Ali, and fought alongside him at Siffin. They are accepted by shia scholars (refer to Khui’s mu’jam). This is mutawatir at the first generation.
Second generation: Some of them are: Zarr Ibn Hubaish, (shia), ‘Amir, Sha’bi, ‘Awn bin Abi Juhaifah, Ishaq, Habib bin Abi Thabit, Abi Ishaq (shia), Khalid Az-Zayyat, Al-Musayyib, ‘Ataa, Salamah bin Kuhail, Haroon bin Salman. Again, one or more shias in the second generation. And again mutawatir in this era.
Second/Third generation: Some of them are: Sa’id bin Masrooq, Abu Mu’awiya, Al-Ajlah, Khalid, Younus bin Khabbab (shia), Shu’bah, Husain, Abu ‘Awwanah, Mansoor bin Abi Muzahim, Shareek, Salih bin Abdillah at-Tirmidhi, ‘Umar bin Mujashi’, As-Sabi bin Al-Ash’ath, Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah, Mansoor bin Abdur-Rahman, Yahya bin Ayyub (shia), Isma’il, Malik bin Mughawwal, Bayan, ‘Asim. Again one or more shias. And by now the hadith is well-known and widespread, and an accepted highly mutawatir hadith.
Third/Fourth generation: Some of them are: Hammad bin Zayd, Wahb bin Baqiyyah, Yayha bin Adam, Muhammad bin ‘Ubayd At-Tanafusi, Isma’il bin Ibrahim, Abu Abdillah, Waki’, Swaid bin Sa’id (shia), Zakariyya bin Yahya Zahmawayh, Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shaybah, Abdullah, Khalid bin Abdullah, Abu Bahr Abdul-Wahid Al-Basri, Shihab bin Kharash, Mubarak bin Sa’id, Muhammad bin Fudhayl, Abu Kuraib, and many more..
Once again, one or more shias narrated this in this generation. By now, the hadith has been written down in books, and has reached incredible tawatur (way too chains to reject as being fabricated), and is an accepted sahih hadith. Hence , I will not proceed with the rest of the links in the chain (4th, 5th, 6th generations..). One early shia scholar who accepts this hadith is Abdur-Razzaq As-San’ani, who has been listed in Ayatullah Khui’s Mu’jam as one of the prominent shia scholars of the era.
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 .One might as well deny the Quran!!
And it is proven that such a athaar is clearly authentic and reaches the state of mutawatir, then to reject it is like how the jews rejected the truth, while they knew what came to them was the truth, so beware.
Here a detailed Takhrij by brother Efendi: https://gift2shias.com/2010/09/14/hadith-of-tafdil-detailed-analyses/
And the Imams of Ahl Al-Bayt were ALSO upon the same Aqeedah:
Imam Baqir (father of Imam Al Sadiq) narrates from Abdullah ibn Jafar that he said :
Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنه) became our ruler, and he was the best caliph of Allah, and he was the most merciful and kind upon us.
Hadith Grading: Saheeh.هَذَا حَدِيثٌ صَحِيحٌ الإِسْنَادِ وَلَمْ يُخَرِّجَاهُمستدرك حاكم 3/79
بريء الله ممن تبرأ من أبي بكر و عمر
Abu Abdullah Ja’afar bin Muhammad (AL-SADIQ) said: “Allah has dissociated himself from those who have dissociated themselves from Abu Bakr and Omar.
“قال الذهبي : قلت: هذا القول متواتر عن جعفر الصادق، أشهد بالله إنه لبار في قوله غير منافق لأحد، فقبح الله الرافضة
Hadith Grading: Imam Al Dhahabi said while commenting on the narration: This saying is Mutawati r(100% authentic) from Jafar Al-Sadiq, I bear witness in front of Allah that he is honest in his saying and not a Munafiq. May Allah increase the Rafidah in ugliness (for lying about the Ahl Al-Bayt)