By Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
Abū Hurayrah relates that The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Islam began strange, and it will become strange again just like it was at the beginning, so blessed are the strangers.” [Sahīh Muslim]
The estrangement mentioned in this hadith is where a person, on account of being upright in knowledge and in deeds, finds few who people in agreement but many who are eager to disagree and ridicule. When this stranger calls the people to what is right, few take heed. The Prophet (peace be upon him) made this meaning clear when, after being asked about the strangers, he said: “They are righteous people among many evil people who disobey them more than they obey them.”
This is one aspect of this estrangement, typified by the small number of those who assist in doing right and the paucity of those who answer the call to Allah. Another aspect of this estrangement is the difficulty faced by the one who attempts to travel on the straight path without stumbling. Evil and iniquity will continue to increase and righteousness will continue to decrease as the time between the people and the era of prophethood grows longer. It will become more and more difficult to achieve anything of benefit without getting involved in something detrimental as well. It will also be difficult to do what is best, due to the great number of impediments that discourage a person from trying.
These aspects of estrangement fall under the general meaning of estrangement, which in turn can take two forms:
The first form of estrangement is that which the Muslims face with respect to the people who show them hostility in every place and time. The Muslims will always be in the minority. Allah says: “Few of My servants are grateful.” [Sûrah al-Saba’: 13]
This is an established fact, both in our religious teachings and in the physical world throughout history. Muslims are outnumbered by others. Muslims, therefore, must have a balanced perspective on the world. For one thing, those who entertain hopes of removing polytheism and unbelief from the world are sheer idealists. The truth is that there will always be a plurality of faiths. Moreover, disbelief in Allah and the practice of polytheism will continue until the end of time.
At the same time, those who would use this as an excuse to refrain from calling people to Islam with beautiful preaching are equally wrong and they are ignoring reality. The fact that the Prophet (peace be upon him) informed us of the continued existence of unbelief in the world did not stop him or his Companions from making great sacrifices in calling people to Islam with patient endurance. Then Allah guided by their hands those whom He pleased to guide.
The second form of estrangement is the estrangement that the Muslims who adhere with steadfastness to their religion face from other Muslims. The estrangement that they have to deal with from other Muslims is sometimes greater than what they experience from those of other faiths. The stronger this stranger’s adheres to righteous conduct becomes, both in knowledge and action, the greater the estrangement becomes. Fewer people have anything in common with that person and more people are in opposition. It is like a person on a long journey with others. As they progress, some people depart, leaving the traveler with fewer and fewer companions until finally the traveler is heading off alone. As a poet once said:
If first they had been counted as few,
They have become now fewer than few.
This stranger feels the pain of estrangement more acutely when those who turn their backs and call him a fool are his very brothers in faith. A poet once said:
The oppression of one’s kinfolk is more agonizing
Than being cut down by a blade of Indian steel.
A Muslim is not surprised when those who openly hate Islam fight against the faith and and place obstacles and thorns in the Muslims’ path. But when other Muslims are the ones to come with abuse, the wound does not heal.
The fact that righteous people will remain strange and in the minority among Muslims is not an excuse for resignation and despair. It is their duty to spread the truth and show the people the correct way to arrive at it. They must show the right way for Muslims to deal with people in justice and kindness. They must be a visible presence raising the banner of truth everywhere. They must use every amicable means available to convey their teachings, like writing books, publishing articles, giving lectures, and participating in debates. At the same time, they must go forth and call non-Muslims to Islam, so that they will have a proper understanding of Islam and so that their first impressions of Islam will not come from those who set a bad example.
This estrangement which is unavoidable is also provisional. Its degree varies from one time to another, just as it varies from one place to another. At some times it can be so severe that the world becomes constricted for them in spite of its spaciousness. At other times the world might open up to them enough for them to breathe a sigh of relief and see the success of their faith with their own eyes.
It is therefore necessary for us to make a distinction between this type of estrangement and the other, absolute estrangement that will take hold right before the end of time. This is where Islam will be taken from the Earth altogether. There will almost be no reformers at this final time of estrangement, nor those who call to Islam. The few who will exist will be disobeyed far more than they will be listened to. This estrangement will pervade every corner of the Earth. Madinah will be abandoned to the insects, where once it had been the heartland of Islam.
Therefore, the strangeness of Islam manifests itself in three ways:
1. The strangeness of Islam’s teachings: This is where some of the laws and institutions of Islam become strange to the people. For this reason, the Prophet (peace be upon him) describes Islam as strange at its beginning and right before it comes to an end.
2. Strangeness of place: This is where Islam appears strange in a certain land or country. The Muslims live as strangers in these lands, whereas they are plentiful and enjoy freedom in other lands. This estrangement, therefore, is only in certain places.
3. Strangeness of time: This is where the Islam is strange all over the world during a certain period of time. This is the way things were during the time before Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent. This will also be the situation in the time after the return of Jesus (peace be upon him) until the Final Hour.
There are cases where certain teachings of Islam will be strange in some countries while other aspects of Islam will be practiced. Likewise, certain Islamic teachings may fall under the estrangement of time, whereby they will almost completely obliterated from the face of the Earth in a given era, only to be revitalized by Allah in a later time at the hands of reformers.
Therefore, until the very last days, this estrangement will never become abiding and deep-rooted. Ignorance will never have sway over the entire world as long as there are still believing souls on Earth.
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) has conveyed to us Allah’s promise that there will always be among the Muslims a divinely supported group that will prevail. They will neither be harmed by those who forsake them nor by those who go against them. This will be the case until the Allah’s decree comes while they still prevail.