Blessed are the strangers in Islam

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Islam originally began as a strange phenomenon in society. The idea of worshiping only one God and adhering to universal moral teachings was distasteful to the pre-Islamic Arab society whose ethics and loyalties were based upon tribalism.

After Islam won the hearts and minds of the Arabs and subsequently spread throughout the world, the teachings of Islam were no longer viewed as strange at all. However, the Prophet warned us that days would come when Islam would return to being strange in society just as it began.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

بَدَأَ الإِسْلاَمُ غَرِيبًا وَسَيَعُودُ كَمَا بَدَأَ غَرِيبًا فَطُوبَى لِلْغُرَبَاءِ

Islam began as a something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 145, Grade: Sahih

There will be times and places when being a Muslim is very difficult and the mainstream society will shun the teachings of Islam. Muslims will be viewed as weird, troublesome, or even enemies of the state. Yet if we face such trials, we should rejoice because blessed are the strangers.

The scholars interpreted the Prophet’s statement by gathering various narrations from different companions in which the strangers are described.

In another narration, the Prophet said:

أُنَاسٌ صَالِحُونَ فِي أُنَاسِ سُوءٍ كَثِيرٍ مَنْ يَعْصِيهِمْ أَكْثَرُ مِمَّنْ يُطِيعُهُمْ

They are righteous people among many evil people. Those who disobey them are greater in number than those who obey them.

Source: Musnad Aḥmad 6612, Grade: Sahih

And in another narration, the Prophet said:

الَّذِينَ يُصْلِحُونَ إِذَا فَسَدَ النَّاسُ

They are those who reform the people when they have become corrupt.

Source: Musnad Aḥmad 16249, Grade: Sahih

The strangers in Islam are those who are a minority among a majority of wicked people, calling to Allah and to righteousness despite the scorn of society.

In another narration, the Prophet said:

النُّزَّاعُ مِنْ الْقَبَائِلِ

They are those who depart from the tribes.

Source: Sunan Ibn Mājah 3988, Grade: Sahih

When the persecution of society becomes too much to bear, the strangers will be forced to leave their homelands in order to practice their religion.

An-Nawawi commented on this narration, saying:

أَرَادَ بِذَلِكَ الْمُهَاجِرِينَ الَّذِينَ هَجَرُوا أَوْطَانَهُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ تَعَالَى

What is meant are those who emigrate from their homelands to Allah the Exalted.

Source: Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 147

This interpretation is supported by another narration, although there is weakness in it:

الْفَرَّارُونَ بِدِينِهِمْ يُجْمَعُونَ إِلَى عِيسَى عَلَيْهِ السَّلامُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ

They are those who flee with their religion. They will be gathered with Jesus the son of Mary on the Day of Resurrection.

Source: Zuhd Aḥmad ibn Hanbal 236

Scholars also explained the meaning of strangers as the disappearance of the correct understanding of Islam and the prophetic tradition (sunnah).

Al-Awza’i said:

أَمَا إِنَّه مَا يَذْهَبُ الإسلامُ وَلَكِنْ يَذْهَبُ أَهْلُ السُّنَةِ، حَتَّى مَا يَبْقَى فِي الْبَلَدِ مِنْهُم إِلاّ رَجُلٌ وَاحِدٌ

Islam will not disappear but the people of the Sunnah will disappear until none remain in any country except a single man.

Source: Kashf al-Kurbah 1/7

Islam itself will always exist outwardly in various forms and misguided sects, but the strangers will be the few who revive true Islam when misguided Islamic philosophies and ideologies predominate.

This interpretation is supported by another narration, although there is weakness in it:

الَّذِينَ يُحْيُونَ سُنَّتِي وَيُعَلِّمُونَهَا عِبَادَ اللَّهِ

They are those who revive my practice (sunnah) and teach it to the servants of Allah.

Source: Zuhd al-Bayhaqī 215

The number of Muslims who understand and practice the faith correctly will continue to decrease until they are a very small minority, even to the point that large crowds of people will abandon Islam altogether.

Jabir ibn Abdullah said: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّ النَّاسَ دَخَلُوا فِي دِينِ اللَّهِ أَفْوَاجًا وَسَيَخْرُجُونَ مِنْهُ أَفْوَاجًا

Verily, the people will enter the religion of Allah in crowds and they will leave it in crowds.

Source: Musnad Aḥmad 14286, Grade: Hasan

Al-Qadi Iyad said:

وَأَنَّ الْإِسْلَامَ بَدَأَ فِي آحَادٍ مِنَ النَّاسِ وَقِلَّةٍ ثُمَّ انْتَشَرَ وَظَهَرَ ثُمَّ سَيَلْحَقُهُ النَّقْصُ وَالْإِخْلَالُ حَتَّى لَا يَبْقَى إِلَّا فِي آحَادٍ وَقِلَّةٍ أَيْضًا كَمَا بَدَأَ

Islam began with a few individuals, then it spread and prevailed, then it will decreased and reduced until none remain except a few individuals as it was in the beginning.

Source: Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 145

Therefore, Islam will return to strangeness when the number of true believers becomes so small that evil deeds and forms of idol worship will prevail throughout the world, causing some believers to emigrate from society for the sake of their religion. The phenomenon of Islam’s strangeness varies in degree in different times and places although it will become very pronounced near the end of time.

Ibn Rajab summarizes these interpretations, saying:

وهم في آخر الزمان الغرباء المذكورون في هذه الأحاديث الذين يُصلحون إذا فسد الناس وهم الذين يُصلحون ما أفسد الناس من السنة وهم الذين يفرون بدينهم من الفتن وهم النزاع من القبائل لأنهم قلوا فلا يوجد في كل قبيلة منهم إلا الواحد والاثنان وقد لا يوجد في بعض القبائل منهم أحدٌ كما كان الداخلون إلى الإسلام في أول الأمر كذلك وبهذا فسر الأئمة هذا الحديث

They are the strangers in the last days mentioned in these traditions: those who reform the affairs when people have become corrupt, those who correct what people have corrupted of the prophetic tradition, those who flee from trials and tribulations to safeguard their religion, and those who have departed from the tribes. For they are few, only one or two will be found in some tribes or none at all in others, just as the first Muslims. This is how the Imams have explained this tradition.

Source: Kashf al-Kurbah 1/6

And Ibn Al-Qayyim summarizes the meaning as follows:

فَهُوَ غَرِيبٌ فِي أُمُورِ دُنْيَاهُ وَآخِرَتِهِ لَا يَجِدُ مِنَ الْعَامَّةِ مُسَاعِدًا وَلَا مُعِينًا فَهُوَ عَالِمٌ بَيْنَ جُهَّالٍ صَاحِبُ سُنَّةٍ بَيْنَ أَهْلِ بِدَعٍ دَاعٍ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ بَيْنَ دُعَاةٍ إِلَى الْأَهْوَاءِ وَالْبِدَعِ آمِرٌ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ نَاهٍ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ بَيْنَ قَوْمٍ الْمَعْرُوفُ لَدَيْهِمْ مُنْكَرٌ وَالْمُنْكَرُ مَعْرُوفٌ

He is strange in the affairs of his world and his Hereafter. He will not find support or cooperation from the masses of people, for he is a scholar among the ignorant, a companion of the Sunnah among the people of innovation, a caller to Allah and His Messenger among those who call to desires and innovations, commanding good and forbidding evil among people who view good as evil and evil as good.

Source: Madārij al-Sālikīn 3/189

We have been duly warned that in some times and places the true Muslims will be outcasts of society such that adhering to Islam will be like grasping a hot coal, yet we should find comfort in the fact that such Muslims who remain steadfast in their faith will have their rewards greatly multiplied.

Abu Tha’labah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

فَإِنَّ مِنْ وَرَائِكُمْ أَيَّامَ الصَّبْرِ الصَّبْرُ فِيهِ مِثْلُ قَبْضٍ عَلَى الْجَمْرِ لِلْعَامِلِ فِيهِمْ مِثْلُ أَجْرِ خَمْسِينَ رَجُلًا يَعْمَلُونَ مِثْلَ عَمَلِهِ

Verily, ahead of you are days of patience, wherein patience will be like grasping hot coals, and the one who does good deeds will have the reward of fifty men who do likewise.

Source: Sunan Abī Dāwūd 4341, Grade: Sahih li gharyi

At all times we must attach ourselves to the community of true believers (Ahlu Sunnah wal Jama’ah) who adhere to the prophetic tradition and the methodology of the righteous predecessors (salaf as-salih) and upright scholars. In every generation there will be a group of scholars and believers adhering to the true teachings of Islam, so we need to recognize them and support them even if they are a maligned few.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَبْعَثُ لِهَذِهِ الْأُمَّةِ عَلَى رَأْسِ كُلِّ مِائَةِ سَنَةٍ مَنْ يُجَدِّدُ لَهَا دِينَهَا

Verily, Allah will raise up in this nation at the beginning of every century someone who will renew their religion.

Source: Sunan Abī Dāwūd 4291, Grade: Sahih

Even if we find ourselves to be the only person in our country practicing Islam, we would still be connected to the universal community of believers across time and space.

Nuaim ibn Hammad, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

إذَا فَسَدَتْ الْجَمَاعَةُ فَعَلَيْك بِمَا كَانَتْ عَلَيْهِ الْجَمَاعَةُ قَبْلَ أَنْ تَفْسُدَ وَإِنْ كُنْت وَحْدَك فَإِنَّك أَنْتَ الْجَمَاعَةُ حِينَئِذٍ

If the community becomes corrupted, then you must adhere to its practice before it became corrupt. Even if you are alone, then you by yourself would be the true community (jama’ah).

Source: I’lām al-Muwaqqi’īn 3/308

This world is only a temporary stepping stone upon the path to eternity in the Hereafter. We should never become too attached to its delights and beauties, nor should we let the opinion of society at large pressure us into abandoning our faith.

Ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

كُنْ فِي الدُّنْيَا كَأَنَّكَ غَرِيبٌ أَوْ عَابِرُ سَبِيلٍ

Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler along a path.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6053, Grade: Sahih

When society moves down the wrong path, our duty is to call them to Allah and His Messenger and the divine teachings which bring life in this world and in the Hereafter. Sometimes we will be called strange or weird, and we will be mocked or even abused, yet we should always remember that blessed are the strangers.

We ask Allah to keep us steadfast in faith and secure in the strangeness of Islam in days to come.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

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