Is this Hadith authentic and what is the meaning of افضل?
عن عمر، رضي الله عنه قال: كنت مع النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم جالسا فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: أتدرون أي أهل الإيمان أفضل إيمانا؟ قالوا يا رسول الله الملائكة؟ قال: هم كذلك ويحق ذلك لهم وما يمنعهم وقد أنزلهم الله المنزلة التي أنزلهم بها بل غيرهم قالوا: يا رسول الله فالأنبياء الذين أكرمهم الله تعالى بالنبوة والرسالة؟ قال: هم كذلك ويحق لهم ذلك وما يمنعهم وقد أنزلهم الله المنزلة التي أنزلهم بها بل غيرهم قال: قلنا: فمن هم يا رسول الله؟ قال: أقوام يأتون من بعدي في أصلاب الرجال فيؤمنون بي ولم يروني ويجدون الورق المعلق فيعملون بما فيه فهؤلاء أفضل أهل الإيمان إيمانا
Imam Hakim (rahimahullah) and others have recorded this narration. ‘Allamah Dhahabi (rahimahullah) and Hafiz Ibn Hajar (rahimahumallah) have declared a narrator in the chain of Hakim as weak.
(Mustadrak Hakim, vol. 4 pg. 85-86 & Al Matalibul ‘Aliyah, Hadith: 2922. Also see Musnad Bazzar, hadith: 323-324 & Musnad Abi Ya’la, hadith: 160)
However, the Hadith is well corroborated. See a corroborating narration here.
In light of these supporting narrations, several Hadith Masters have declared the narration reliable, and suitable to quote.
(Refer to: Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah’s (hafizahullah) footnotes on Tadribur Rawi, vol.4 pg.346-347).
Translation of the Hadith in question
Sayyiduna ‘Umar (radiyallahu ‘anhu) says: “I was once seated with Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) when he said, ‘Do you know whose Iman is the most [amazing]? They [The Sahabah] replied, ‘The angels’. Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, ‘They are, but rightfully so as what prevents them when Allah has afforded them the rank that He has afforded them?’ Rather, [I am speaking] about others.’ They said, O Messenger of Allah, Then the Ambiya whom Allah has blessed with Nubuwwah and Prophethood.’ Nabi (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: ‘They are, but rightfully so as what prevents them when Allah has afforded them the rank that He has afforded them?’ Rather, [I am speaking] about others.’ We [The sahabah] said, ‘Then who are they O Messenger of Allah?’ He replied, ‘People who will come after me, believe in me despite not seeing me. They will find pages [referring to the Quran] and practice upon what it contains, these people have the most [amazing] Iman.’”
Hafiz Ibn Hajar (rahimahullah) explains that the words ‘أفضل’ in this Hadith does not mean ‘best’. [Rather it means amazing/surprising] as in other Hadiths.
(Refer: Al Amalil Mutlaqah, pg. 39)
Also see the explanation here
And Allah Ta’ala Knows best.
Answered by: Moulana Suhail Motala
Approved by: Moulana Muhammad Abasoomar
This answer was collected from HadithAnswers.com. The answers were either answered or checked by Moulana Haroon Abasoomar (rahimahullah) who was a Shaykhul Hadith in South Africa, or by his son, Moulana Muhammad Abasoomer (hafizahullah), who is a Hadith specialist.