The Prophet said: "Islam began as something strange, and it will return to being something strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers." [Muslim]
The meaning of ‘strange’ in the Hadeeth
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, or, in other words, of being strange. This feeling is normal when being among non-Muslims, but, unfortunately, this feeling sometimes also occurs when one is among 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 (disbelief), yet he feels that he does not have enough power or courage to stop them.
Some Muslims, especially if they do not have enough Taqwa (piety) or Islamic knowledge, 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.
They should take consolation in the verses of the Quran and in the statements of the Prophet describing this estrangement.
Why have they been called ‘strangers?'
Allah Says (what means): "So why were there not among the generations before you those of enduring discrimination forbidding corruption on earth – except a few of those We saved from among them…?" [Quran 11: 116] This verse speaks of the few people on earth, the "strangers", who prohibit mankind from evil. These are the same people the Prophet spoke about when he said:
"Islam began as something strange, and it will return to being something strange, so give glad tidings to the ‘strangers’.” [Muslim]
The Prophet was asked: "O Messenger of Allah, who are those strangers?" He replied: "Those who reform the people when they become corrupt." [Abu ‘Amr Ad-Dani]. In another narration, the Prophet 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." [Ibn ‘Asakir]
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.
In reality, however, their estrangement is only because they are the minority and it is not because their actions and beliefs are strange. Allah Says (what means): "And if you obey most of those upon the earth, they will mislead you from the way of Allah. They follow not except assumption, and they are not but falsifying." [Quran 6: 116]
Allah also Says (what means):
"And most of the people, although you strive [for it], are not believers." [Quran 12: 103]
"…And indeed, many among the people are defiantly disobedient." [Quran 5: 49]
Therefore, Allah, The All-Knowing Creator, Knows that most of mankind will not follow the truth. Only a few will be set apart that truly and correctly believe in Him; they are 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 of Allah.
There are various types of estrangement, some of which are praiseworthy, some are blameworthy, and some are neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy. We will discuss these categories below.
The various types of estrangement
The first type of estrangement: This type is that of the "People of Allah and His Messenger who were mentioned previously. This estrangement is praiseworthy because it has been praised by Allah and His Messenger . Therefore, this kind should be sought after and its people must be supported.
These ‘strangers’, then, are the true believers, because they only worship Allah, and they do not follow any path except the path of the Prophet .
Thus, it is apparent that this estrangement does not cause its bearer any discontent. Rather, it is a comforting estrangement, a solace to the believers. The believer knows that Allah and those who believe are with him.
Allah, Almighty, sent His Prophet to people because they had strayed. There were those who worshipped rivers, trees, idols, and there were Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. Islam, when it first appeared among people, was strange to them. If a person from among them accepted Islam, he would be shunned and even tortured by his family and his tribe. He would live as a stranger among his own people. Eventually, however, Islam spread far and wide. Then the Muslims became stronger and more numerous, so much so, that the strangers were those who did not accept Islam.
But later, Satan deceived people again. Many people abandoned Islam, thus those who remained true believers became strangers again, just as when Islam began.
The Prophet said that this nation would be divided into seventy-three groups, all of which would go to Hell except the one Saved Group (those who follow Allah and His Messenger).
The true believer should be prepared to resign himself to the life of a stranger among his people, just like his predecessors who accepted Islam were treated by their people.
The second type of estrangement: It is the blameworthy one, for its people are the evil sinners, the ignorant and the arrogant from among mankind. Their estrangement is due to their refusal to follow the right path of Allah and His Messenger . This type is the estrangement of not conforming to the religion of Islam and, as such, it will remain strange even if its followers are numerous, its power is strong, and its existence is widespread. These are the strangers to Allah.
The third type of estrangement: This type is, in essence neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy. It is the type that a traveler experiences when he travels to a different country, like a person who lives in a place for a short period of time, knowing that he has to move on.
One aspect of this estrangement is that all of us, whether we realize it or not, are strangers in this life, for we will all go one day to our permanent abode in the Hereafter. This is the meaning of the Hadeeth of the Prophet when he told ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar : "Live in this world as though you are a stranger or a wayfarer." Thus, this category of estrangement has the potential to become a praiseworthy one, if we realize the meaning of this statement of Allah’s Messenger .