“Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers.”
Saheeh Hadeeth [Ibn Maajah, Kitaab al fitan 3986
Like most thinking Muslims of our time, over the last few years, I have also been thinking about the sad state that the Muslim Ummah finds itself in. Like lost sheep we are large in number but distracted, disconnected, and dispersed, prey to every passing wolf. All the power, authority, wealth and influence seems to be in the hands of those who are arrayed against us, leaving us with little choice if any, even with respect to the wealth which is apparently in our hands. It is they who dispose of it at will even though on the face of it, we are its owners. Like most people I too complained, defined our ‘problem’ and re-defined it; discussed it, debated it and agonized over it until I came to the conclusion that none of this was getting me any closer to a solution. And frankly that is all that matters.
I read the Qur’an and the Seerah of Rasoolullahﷺ and our history, both ancient and modern because history has the potential to teach us lessons. I spoke to people wiser and more learned than I am and listened carefully to what they had to say; Ulama and others in several countries. I prayed and asked for the help of Allahﷻ to understand our situation and devise a way out of it. As I thought about these times, I couldn’t help but see many similarities between the situation today and the situation as it existed in the time of Rasoolullahﷺ and his Sahaba during the major part of his life in Makkah. They too had almost no influence, power, or wealth. They were the victims of all kinds of persecution and deprivation. They were evicted from their homes, boycotted, and embargoed, tortured and some were killed. Yet in one generation, in less than 20 years, the situation completely transformed and Muhammadﷺ and his followers became the leaders of Arabia and the known world.
The big question is, ‘HOW DID IT HAPPEN? HOW DID THEY DO IT?’
The answer is very simple – this happened simply by Muhammadﷺ and his followers living Islam. All that they did was to be Muslims. They were living models of Islam, Standard Bearers of Islam. They did not spend time in giving speeches about Islam or holding seminars and symposia about points of Fiqh. They did not write momentous treatises on the hidden aspects of this Ayât or that. They lived the Qur’an. They did not lecture others about the importance of the Sunnah. They followed the Sunnah in every single aspect of their lives. They did not debate and create nomenclature to distinguish between what is Haraam and what is Makrooh and within Makrooh what is Tanzeehi and what is Tahreemi. They did not get stuck in minor matters of religious observance, thereby creating divisions. They simply did not do anything that was displeasing to Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ. They did not ask which sin was big and which was small. They avoided sin because in their mind it was not the quantum or nature of the disobedience but who was being disobeyed, that was important. And that is why when Allahﷻ used the word ‘Believers’ He meant the Sahaba. So, there it was the answer to my question, ‘What should we do to help ourselves?’ The solution was clear as daylight:
‘Be Muslims as the Sahaba were Muslim.
Become Standard Bearers of Islam.’
I realized that it was necessary for us to go back to the basics and see how Rasoolullahﷺ and his Sahaba practiced Islam and do the same with the hope that Allahﷻ would then change our condition when He saw that we were ready to do His work and to give it precedence over our own desires and pursuits. It is really quite simple. We are the ones who complicate it for ourselves and then suffer. The Qur’an is quite clear on the fact that the decisions of Allahﷻ that are made with respect to our lives in this world are related to our actions. Good begets good and evil begets evil.
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
Ar-Rum 30:41. Evil (sins and disobedience of Allâh) has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of people have earned (by oppression and evil deeds), that Allâh may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return (by repenting to Allâh).
Allahﷻ told us that the solution lies within us:
Ar Ra’ad 13: 11….. Verily! Allâh will not change the good condition of a people as long as they do not change their state of goodness themselves (by committing sins).
And that is how the idea of becoming Standard Bearers of Islam was born. I believe therefore that the solution to our problems today globally is to return to the Sunnah of Rasoolullahﷺ and be as the Sahaba were – true to Islam to the best of our ability. I agree we are weak, and we ask for the help of Allahﷻ. But we need to do our part.
I want to begin with a quote from the great scholar and student of Shaikh ul Islam Ibn Taimiya, Imam Ibn al Qayyim Al Jawziyya who says in his booklet Al Ghurbathu wa Al Ghuraba: Strangeness and Strangers
The Meaning of “Strangeness”
“Many times, in many situations the people who follow the religion of Allahﷻ 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 Allahﷻ 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 Allahﷻ have mercy on them, should take consolation in the Ayaat of the Qur’an and the many statements of Rasoolullahﷺ describing this very situation of strangeness that they feel.
Why Have They Been Called “Strangers”?
Allahﷻ says in the Qur’an,
فَلَوْلاَ كَانَ مِنَ الْقُرُونِ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ أُوْلُواْ بَقِيَّةٍ يَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْفَسَادِ فِي الأَرْضِ إِلاَّ قَلِيلاً مِّمَّنْ أَنجَيْنَا مِنْهُمْ وَاتَّبَعَ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُواْ مَا أُتْرِفُواْ فِيهِ وَكَانُواْ مُجْرِمِينَ
Hud 11:116. If only there had been among the generations before you, people having wisdom, prohibiting (others) from Al-Fasâad (disbelief, polytheism, sins) in the earth, except a few of those whom We saved from among them. Those who did wrong pursued the enjoyment of good things of (this worldly) life, and were Mujrimûn (criminals, sinners).
This Ayah speaks of the few people on earth, the “strangers”, who prohibit mankind from evil. These are the same people that Rasoolullahﷺ mentioned 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 Jannah. So the Prophetﷺ is giving the good news of Jannah to these strangers] to the strangers.” He was asked, “Who are those strangers, Ya Rasoolullahﷺ?” He replied, “Those that correct the people when they become corrupt.” [Reported by Abu Amr al-Dani, from the Hadith of ibn Masoud]. Another narration says, “Those that correct my Sunnah which has been corrupted by the people after me.” In another narration he said, “They are a small group of people among a large evil population. Those who oppose them are more than those who follow them.” [ibn Asaakir]
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. Their strangeness is only because they are the minority, and it is not because their actions and beliefs are strange. Allahﷻ said:
وَإِن تُطِعْ أَكْثَرَ مَن فِي الأَرْضِ يُضِلُّوكَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللّهِ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلاَّ الظَّنَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلاَّ يَخْرُصُونَ
An’am 6:116. And if you obey most of those on earth, they will mislead you far away from Allâh’s Path. They follow nothing but conjectures, and they do nothing but lie.
Yusuf 12:103. And most of mankind will not believe even if you desire it eagerly.
وَأَنِ احْكُم بَيْنَهُم بِمَآ أَنزَلَ اللّهُ وَلاَ تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءهُمْ وَاحْذَرْهُمْ أَن يَفْتِنُوكَ عَن بَعْضِ مَا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ إِلَيْكَ فَإِن تَوَلَّوْاْ فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللّهُ أَن يُصِيبَهُم بِبَعْضِ ذُنُوبِهِمْ وَإِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ النَّاسِ لَفَاسِقُونَ
Al Ma’aidah 5:49. . And so judge (O Muhammadﷺ ) between them by what Allâh has revealed and follow not their vain desires, but beware of them lest they turn you (O Muhammad) far away from some of that which Allâh has sent down to you. And if they turn away, then know that Allâh’s Will is to punish them for some sins of theirs. And truly, most people are Fâsiqûn (rebellious and disobedient)
وَاتَّبَعْتُ مِلَّةَ آبَآئِـي إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْحَقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ مَا كَانَ لَنَا أَن نُّشْرِكَ بِاللّهِ مِن شَيْءٍ ذَلِكَ مِن فَضْلِ اللّهِ عَلَيْنَا وَعَلَى النَّاسِ وَلَـكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لاَ يَشْكُرُونَ
Yusuf 12: 38. “And I have followed the religion of my fathers, – Ibrahîm, Ishâque and Ya’qûb, and never could we attribute any partners whatsoever to Allâh. This is from the Grace of Allâh to us and to mankind, but most of mankind are ungrateful.
Therefore, Allahﷻ, the all-Knowing Creator, knows that 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 real strangers are those to whom the truth about their Rabb, His Glory and Majesty is strange. The beautiful character of Rasoolullahﷺ is strange. The laws that Allahﷻ revealed are strange. The Sunnah of Rasoolullahﷺ is strange. May Allahﷻ keep us among those strangers who were given the glad tidings of Jannah by Rasoolullahﷺ.
Finally, a lovely story from the Seerah. Once when Umar ibn al-Khattab (R) was walking in the market, he passed by a man who was making dua, “O Allahﷻ make us of Your ‘few’ slaves! O Allahﷻ make us of Your ‘few’ slaves!” Umar (R) asked him, “Where did you get this dua from?” The man said, “Allahﷻ in His Book says, ‘And few of My slaves are grateful.’
(Qur’an 34:13 وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِىَ ٱلشَّكُورُ)”
‘Umar (R) wept and admonished himself, “The people are more knowledgeable than you, O Umar! O Allah make us of Your ‘few’ slaves.” Sometimes when you advise someone to leave a sin, they say “But most people do it, it’s not just me!” But if you look for the words “most people” in the Qur’an, you will find that most people “do not know” (7:187 وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ ٱلنَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ), “do not give thanks”
(2:243 إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَذُو فَضْلٍ عَلَى ٱلنَّاسِ وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ ٱلنَّاسِ لَا يَشْكُرُونَ) and “do not believe” (11:17 إِنَّهُ ٱلْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّكَ وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ ٱلنَّاسِ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ). And if you look for “most of them”, you will find that most of them are “defiantly disobedient” (5:59 وَأَنَّ أَكْثَرَكُمْ فَـٰسِقُونَ), “ignorant” (6:111 وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَهُمْ يَجْهَلُونَ), “turning away” (21:24 بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ ٱلْحَقَّ فَهُم مُّعْرِضُونَ), “do not reason” (5:103 وَأَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ ), and “do not listen” (41:4 بَشِيرًا وَنَذِيرًا فَأَعْرَضَ أَكْثَرُهُمْ فَهُمْ لَا يَسْمَعُونَ So be of the “few”, whom Allah says about them:
“And few of My slaves are grateful.” (34:13 وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِىَ ٱلشَّكُورُ)
“But none had believed with him, except a few.” (11:40 وَمَآ ءَامَنَ مَعَهُۥٓ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ)
“In the Gardens of Pleasure, a [large] company of the former people, and a few of the later people.”
(56:12-14 فِى جَنَّـٰتِ ٱلنَّعِيمِ ثُلَّةٌ مِّنَ ٱلْأَوَّلِينَ وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنَ ٱلْـَٔاخِرِينَ)
Ibn al-Qayyim (ra) said, “Go on the path of truth and do not feel lonely because there are few who take that path and beware of the path of falsehood and do not be deceived by the great number of the perishers.”
This advice is particularly important and valuable today as we live in a world where the appearance of popularity is taken as a mark of greatness. Not scholarship, or generosity, or character, or manners, or courage, or integrity or anything which is of real value. But popularity on social media. I advise myself and you to save ourselves from this voluntary slavery and focus on the only thing that has value i.e., the Ridha (Pleasure) of Allahﷻ.