“Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers.”
Strangeness and Strangers by Imam ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah
(Based on a booklet by ibn Qayyim entitled al-Ghurbathu wa al-Ghuraba)
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. We will discuss these various categories separately below.
The Various Types of Strangeness
Strangeness is of three types:
The first type of strangeness is the strangeness of the “People of Allah and the People of His Messenger” (peace be upon him), which we mentioned previously. This strangeness is a praiseworthy strangeness, as it has been praised by Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him). Therefore, this kind of strangeness should be sought and its people must be supported. This strangeness occurs in different times, in different places, and among different peoples. These strangers, then, are the true “People of Allah” for they do not worship ought save Him, and they do not take support from any path except the path of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and they do not call to anything except that which has been brought by the Prophet (peace be upon him). These are the people who left mankind when they (the strangers) were in need of them the most. For, on the Day of Judgment, when all other groups will go with that which they used to worship, they will stay in their places. It will be said to them, “Will you not go as the other people have gone?” They will answer, “We had abandoned the people (in this life), and we were more in need of them then we are today, and we will wait for our Lord whom we used to worship.” [Recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim]
As for the second type of strangeness, then know, O reader, that this strangeness is the blameworthy strangeness, for its people are the evil sinners, the ignorant and the arrogant of mankind. Their strangeness is due to their refusal to follow the correct and straight path of Allah. This strangeness is the strangeness 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. May Allah keep us from becoming one of them.
The third category of strangeness is, in essence, neither praiseworthy or blameworthy. It is the strangeness 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 strangeness is that all of us, whether we realize it or not, are strangers in this world, for we will all go one day to our permanent abode in the Hereafter. This is the meaning of the hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he told Abdullah ibn Umar, “Live in this world as though you are a stranger or a wayfarer.” Thus, this category of strangeness has the potential to become a praiseworthy strangeness if we realize the meaning of this statement of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him).
We pray that Allah bless us to be Muslims, knowledgeable and pious, and that He forgive us our sins and bless us with His Mercy.