Ever since I started exploring Sunnah.com (a website that hosts primary Sunni hadith sources), I have come across many questionable sets of hadiths which seem to reflect the influence of post-Prophetic partisan politics on the process of hadith narration. One striking example that I recently stumbled was upon searching the key word, "beloved" as a way to find out which things and people were most loved by the Holy Prophet according to these sources. Among my findings was a set of contradictory accounts from Tirmidhi on the most beloved woman and man to the Holy Prophet.
The first set is a hadith attributed by Amr bin al-As to the Holy Prophet quoted through different chains of narrators who all quote al-As:
Narrated 'Amr bin Al-'As: that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) appointed him as a leader of the army of Dhatis-Salasil. He said: "So I went to him and said: 'O Messenger of Allah! Who is the most beloved to you among the people?' He said: ''Aishah.' I said: 'From the men?' He said: 'Her father.'" (Source)
Narrated 'Amr bin Al-'As: that he said to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ): "Who is the most beloved of the people to you?" He said: "'Aishah." He said: "From the men?" He said: "Her farther." (Source)
Narrated 'Amr bin Al-'As: "It was said: 'O Messenger of Allah! Who is the most beloved of the people to you?' He said: ''Aishah.' It was said: 'From the men?' He said: 'Her father.'" (Source)
So according to al-As, the most beloved woman and man to the Holy Prophet have been his youngest wife Aisha and her father, Abu Bakr.
But this is contradicted by hadiths quoted by two other companions -- one of whom interestingly quoting Aisha herself in turn! --, reporting that the two most beloved woman and man to the Holy Prophet have been his cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn abi Talib, and his wife and Prophet's daughter, Fatima:
Narrated Buraidah: "The most beloved of women to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) was Fatimah and from the men was 'Ali." (Source) [a March 2020 postscript: rated "hassan gharib" (good but strange) by an Abu Isa according to the Arabic text, but rated as da'if in the translation].
Narrated Jumai' bin 'Umair At-Taimi: "I entered along with my uncle upon 'Aishah and she was asked: 'Who among people was the most beloved to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)?' She said: 'Fatimah.' So it was said: 'From the men?' She said: 'Her husband, as I knew him to fast much and stand in prayer much.'" (Source) [a March 2020 postscript: with rating similar to the above].
What is interesting with all of these sources and names, is how they fall meaningfully on the opposite sides of political disagreements and conflicts that broke out after the passing of the Holy Prophet.
We know that Amr ibn al-As was among the most staunch enemies of Ali, who along with Muawiya led the Battle of Siffin against Prophet's son-in-law and cousin. On the other hand, I learned that Buraidah who quotes several other hadiths in favor of Ali, has been among his loyal devotees since Prophet's time, and was notably among companions who protested election of Abu Bakr instead of Ali as the immediate successor to the Holy Prophet at Saqifa. But so far I could not find information on the second narrator, Jumai' bin Umair.
Now my thesis is, could have al-As the single narrator of this hadith been possibly fabricating this hadith in favor of Abu Bakr and Aisha in order to play down the status of Ali and Fatima who were among his enemies? For how could al-As know that Aisha and her father were the most beloved people the Prophet, without Aisha herself knowing that? The historians have described al-As as shrewd politician. This is while there seems to be no reason for Aisha to fabricate hadiths in favor of a man she felt jealous of and fought her own war against him. More interestingly Aisha has narrated other hadiths in favor of Ali and his wife such as this one! The impossibility for the forgery of the latter set of hadiths is further reinforced by several other hadiths quoted from the Holy Prophet wherein he expresses his special love for Ali and his family such as the hadith below:
Narrated Zaid bin Arqam:that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said to 'Ali, Fatimah, Al-Hasan and Al-Husain: "I am at war with whoever makes war with you, and peace for whoever makes peace with you." (Source)
I could think of no other explanation for these contradictory hadiths except by assuming that the Holy Prophet might have changed his mind on who he loves most over time. But the last hadith by Aisha obviously seems to express Prophet's eternal opinion. So if my thesis is correct, does this mean that we should take into account political affiliations of hadith narrators as one possible factor in determining reliability of the narrators?
goldPseudo pointed out a reasonable observation that I had failed to deal with in my argument saying that all the hadiths in favor of Ali that I have quoted particularly here are graded as dhaif (weak). [Postscript: reviewing this post long afterwards in March 2020, I realized the hadiths in favor of Ali and Fatima are actually rated as "hassan gharib", "good and strange", by scholars referenced in the original text which seem to contradict the English translations of ratings.]
But I could've also quoted similar hadiths that are graded either as "good" or "correct" which seem to corroborate the previous hadiths. Here are two examples:
This hadith again narrated by Aisha, testifies to Fatima's excellent Islamic manners as well as Prophet's expression of unique respect for her:
Narrated 'Aishah: "I have not seen anyone closer in conduct, way, and manners to that of the Messenger of Allah in regards to standing and sitting, than Fatimah the daughter of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)." She said "Whenever she would enter upon the Prophet (ﷺ) he would stand to her and kiss her, and he would sit her in his sitting place. Whenever the Prophet (ﷺ) entered upon her she would stand from her seat, and kiss him and sit him in her sitting place. So when the Prophet (ﷺ) fell sick and Fatimah entered, she bent over and kissed him. Then she lifted her head and cried, then she bent over him and she lifted her head and laughed. So I said: 'I used to think that this one was from the most intelligent of our women, but she is really just one of the women.' So when the Prophet (ﷺ) died, I said to her: 'Do you remember when you bent over the Prophet (ﷺ) and you lifted your head and cried, then you bent over him, then you lifted your head and laughed. What caused you to do that?' She said: 'Then, I would be the one who spreads the secrets. He (ﷺ) told me that he was to die from his illness, so I cried. Then he told me that I would be the quickest of his family to meet up with him. So that is when I laughed.'" (Source) [rated as hasan gharib in Arabic text but daif in the translation]
This hadith suggests that Allah literally sent his most beloved creature, Ali, to the Prophet upon his request:
Narrated Anas bin Malik: "There was a bird with the Prophet (ﷺ), so he said: 'O Allah, send to me the most beloved of Your creatures to eat this bird with me.' So 'Ali came and ate with him. " (Source) [Gharib in Arabic text, daif in the translation]
So given the above supportive hadiths, how do we explain Al-As's contradictory account? And given this latter observation of the grading disparity, I would also appreciate knowing why the earlier three hadiths have been graded as weak by the English editors when the original Arabic texts describe them as "hasan gharib" which means they have good isnad but simply not narrated by other narrators. Plus their content seem to have been corroborated by many other good, correct, and weak hadiths from the same book and others.