“Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers.”
The Meaning of “Strangeness”
Many times in many situations the people that follow the religion of Allah feel a sense of not belonging, of being out of place, of not fitting in, and, in other words, of being strange. This feeling could occur in a gathering of non-Muslims, but, unfortunately, this feeling sometimes also occurs when one is with his fellow Muslims. A person sees his brothers and sisters doing acts that are contrary to Islam, or taking part in innovations that sometimes even border on kufr (apostasy), yet he feels that he does not have enough power or courage to stop them in these acts. Some brothers and sisters, especially if they do not have enough taqwa or Islamic knowledge, sometimes buckle under the pressure of their peers and join in these acts, knowing that this is not what Allah wants them to do. However, feeling helpless, since it seems that they are alone in their ideas and without any support to help them do what is right, they succumb to such pressures.
These brothers and sisters, may Allah have mercy on them, should take consolation in the verses of the Qur’an and the many statements of the Prophet (peace be upon him) describing this very situation of strangeness that they feel.
Why Have They Been Called “Strangers”?
Allah says in the Qur’an, “If only there had been, in the generations preceding you, people having wisdom, prohibiting others from evil in the earth; except a few of those whom we have saved from among them.” (Hud 116).
This verse speaks of the few people on earth, the “strangers”, who prohibit mankind from evil. These are the same people the Prophet (peace be upon him) spoke about when he said, “Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange, so give glad tidings [ar. Tooba. This is a tree in Paradise. So the Prophet (peace be upon him) is giving the good news of Paradise to these strangers.] to the strangers.” It was asked, “Who are those strangers, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “Those that correct the people when they become corrupt.” [Reported by Abu Amr al-Dani, from the hadith of ibn Masoud. It is authentic according to al-Albani. Another narration says, “Those that correct my sunnah which has been corrupted by the people after me.”] In another narration he said in response to the same question, “They are a small group of people among a large evil population. Those who oppose them are more than those who follow them.” [Reported by ibn Asaakir. It is authentic according to al-Albani.]
These praiseworthy people are called strangers since they are a small minority among mankind. Thus, Muslims are strangers among mankind; the true believers are strangers among Muslims; and the scholars are strangers among the true believers. And the followers of the Sunnah, those that clear themselves from all peoples of innovation, are likewise strangers.
In reality, however, their strangeness is only because they are the minority and it is not because their actions and beliefs are strange. This is what Allah says in surah al-Anaam, “And if you obey most of the people on Earth, they will lead you astray” (al-Anaam 116). Allah also says, “And most of mankind will not believe, even if you (O Muhammad) desire it eagerly” (Yusuf 103); “And truly, most of mankind are rebellious and disobedient (to Allah).” (al-Maidah 49); “But nay, most of mankind are ungrateful” (Yusuf 38). Therefore, Allah, the all-Knowing Creator, knows the most of mankind will not follow the truth. Instead, only a small group of people will be set apart that truly and correctly believe in Him, the strangers from among mankind.
The strangers in belief, however, and the strangers in character and actions are in reality the majority of mankind, for they are strange to Islam and to the laws that Allah has revealed. Thus we see that there are various types of strangeness, of which some are praiseworthy, some are blameworthy and some are neither praiseworthy or blameworthy.
Imam Ibn ul Qayyim al Jawziyyah