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Why is it stated this way, "the best of condiments or condiment"? Isn't that just "the best condiment"?

'A'isha (RA) reported Allah's Apostle (pbuh) as saying: The best of condiments or condiment is vinegar.

Saheeh Muslim

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Appearance of the narration or similar ahadith in sahih Muslim

First let's take a look into sahih Muslim and check: We have the narration you've quoted:

"The best of condiments or condiment is vinegar." (sahih Muslim)

in "The Book of Drinks"
"(30)Chapter: The virtue of vinegar and using it as a condiment"

which was narrated via the following chain:
Abdullah ibn Abdarrahman ad-Darimi الدارمي from Yahya ibn Hassan يحيى بن حسان from Sulaiman ibn Bilal سليمان بن بلال from Hisham ibn 'Urwah from his father ('Urwah ibn az-Zubair) from 'Aisha

When reading this hadith/narration we may note that the "or" is between two similar words which may mean that one of the narrator in the chain was not sure which was the correct word he has heard from his "teacher" or source.

So he expressed that the statement was either:

The best of condiments is vinegar

or

The best condiment is vinegar.

So one of the the reporters/narrators might have had some doubts about the exact word used ... that's why he used once the word in singular once in plural form.

See for example this post How can the statement "7 or 9 daughters" in a narration be explained? for a similar expression of uncertainty.

The next hadith in this same Chapter says:

" The best condiment." And he did not doubt (about this word). (sahih Muslim )

The last statement (in bold letters) is an addition of imam Muslim and beside his comment on the narrator chain shows that the former narration included a doubt about the wording! Muslim also used the words وَحَدَّثَنَاهُ (maning: and we have also heard it from ...) at the beginning of this hadith to show that he also heard the same narration from an other chain.
Sunnah.com here only shows that the rest of the chain between Sulaiman ibn Bilal and 'Urwah ibn az-Zubair who heard it from 'Aisha is the same... Therefore here's the difference:
Musa ibn Quraish ibn Nafi' at-Tamimi from Yahya ibn Salah al-Wohadhy from Sulaiman ibn Bilal (via the same chain as before Hisham ibn 'Urwah -> ... -> 'Aisha)

from this we may conclude that the doubt starts either with Yahya ibn Hassan or with the known hadith scholar, author of the sunan and teacher of Muslim, at-Tirmidhi, abi Dawod and Ahmad ibn Hanbal (according to English wikipedia) the imam ad-Darimi.

The next hadith in sahih Muslim seems at least to support the meaning:

... Vinegar is a good condiment, vinegar is a good condiment. (sahih Muslim)

See also the following ahadith (2502b, 2502c, 2502d) which are quoting the same event from the hadith of Jabir in different ways.

Appearances of the narration in other hadith collections and further discussion

Note: I'm discussing here only the narrations which have been heard/narrated from 'Aisha (as the source), as there are other sahaba having narrated it among them Jabir and Umm Hani'.

Imam al-Bayhaqi has compiled the hadith without the second statement in his as-Sunan al-Kubra:

The best of condiments is vinegar

which he has narrated via the same narrator chain of imam Muslim, but with later narrators in the chain as al-Bayhaqi lived more than one century after Muslim, he also said that Muslim (also) narrated it via ad-Darimi (whom is the last common narrator in both books)

In his shamai'l at-Tirmdihi seems to point at ad-Darimi to be the person who had quoted the narration with the doubt as he quotes the hadith as heard from two teachers ad-Darimi and Muhammad ibn Sahl ibn 'Assakir.

Ibn Majah has narrated it via a similar chain as Muslim (common line starts with Sulaiman ibn Bilal)

“What a blessed condiment vinegar is.” (sunan ibn Majah)

(Which is a different translation) he also quoted it via Umm Sa'ad (here) which seems to have witnessed the dialog between 'Aisha and the Prophet (), but this is a doubtful narration and has a completely different chain.

Ad-Darimi indeed quotes in his sunan the same narration as Muslim with the doubt in the wording.

Ibn Abi Shaibah in his Musnaf quoted two chains for the hadith of Jabir and one new chain for the hadith of 'Aisha (without any doubt):

The best of condiments is vinegar

The chain is the following: Zaid ibn al-Habbab (also known as ibn ar-Rayan) زيد بن الحباب العكلي from Abdullah ibn al-Mu'mil عبد الله بن المؤمل (? ibn Sa'ad in his tabaqat say he is trustworthy, but has only narrated a few ahadith others like Yahya ibn Ma'in called him dai'f, imam Ahmad said his ahadith are manakir -rejected- according to imam ad-Dahabi in his mizan al-'itidal ميزان الاعتدال في نقد الرجال) from ibn abi Mulaika ابن أبي مليكة.

On the meaning of the statement

It may sound strange to call vinegar a condiment especially if it is the lonely food as it was stated in some narrations ... therefore here a few explanations from hadith commentaries:

Al-Khattaabi الخطابي said in his commentary on the hadith: What these words point to is moderation in eating and refraining from overindulgence in food. It is as if he was saying: Use as condiments vinegar and the like, which are inexpensive and are not difficult to obtain, and do not expend too much effort in pursuit of fine food, for indulging in desires spoils one’s religious commitment and makes the body sick.

End quote from Ma‘aalim as-Sunan (4/254) (source: islamqa #191176)

Imam an-Nawawi in his commentary on sahih Muslim said:

في الحديث فضيلة الخل ، وأنه يسمى أدما ، وأنه أدم فاضل جيد .

(My own translation take it with care)

The hadith contains the virtue of vinegar, and that it can be referred to as a condiment and that it is a condiment an excellent (good) one too.

He also added that both al-Qadi 'Iyad and al-Khattabi commented the hadith saying:

فقال الخطابي والقاضي عياض : معناه مدح الاقتصار في المأكل ومنع النفس من ملاذ الأطعمة .

(again my own translation)

It means to compliment to moderation in eating and refraining from overindulgence in food.

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