It is a collective agreement [Ijmāʻ] of the scholars of Ahl as-Sunnah wal-Jamāʻh that the greatest person in this Ummah is Abū Bakr, then ʿUmar, then ʿUs̱mān and then ʿAlī, radiyAllahu anhum. The greatest Sufi masters have also affirmed this tenet of the Sunnī creed. Particularly, the Naqshbandī masters hold this belief firmly, not only based on the authentic narrations, but also by their Kashf.
Regarding the superiority of Sayyidinā Abū-Bakr, it is also a belief of Sunni Muslims that he is the best human being after the prophets.
There are numerous scholarly proofs regarding this core tenet of Ahl-us-Sunnah, including many Sahīh Hadīths and their interpretations by the Imāms of jurisprudence and creed. Repeating those arguments is not necessary here. Rather, I will emphasize on the quotes of the luminary Sufi masters who have affirmed this belief. This is in response to some Sufis who believe in the contrary and hold Imām Alī to be better than Abū-Bakr.
On the other hand, this post does not in any way show disrespect or diminishing of the dignity of our master Imām ʻAlī ibn Abī Tālib, who is the beloved of every seeker of the spiritual paths. No one can ever diminish his lofty status in the eyes of his lovers. Not only him, but even his sons, grandsons and great-grandsons are pupils of the eyes of true Muslims.
The master of all Sufis, the master of the Muslim nation, the center of sainthood, Imām ʻAlī ibn Abī Tālib radiyAllāhu ʻanhu himself has declared the superiority of Abū-Bakr over all others. He said the following words in a public gathering:
“Indeed Abū-Bakr and ʻUmar are the greatest in this nation.”
This is reported by Imām Dhahabī and quoted by Imām Rabbānī in his Maktūbāt. Imām Dhahabī also said that more than eighty narrators have narrated this from Imām ʻAlī.
Imām Rabbānī also quotes the following through Imām Dhahabī:
“I have been informed that some people consider me greater than these two [Abū-Bakr and ʻUmar]. Thus, however considers me greater than them, he is a liar and his punishment is the same as for a liar.” [Maktūbāt, volume 1, letter 266]
The light of the Ahl al-Bait our master Imām Muḥammad al-Bāqir (d.114H/733) alaihi as-Salām said in this regard: