Strangeness and the Strangers - Ibn Qayyim

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Strangeness and the Strangers - Ibn Qayyim
02/04/01 at 03:14:15

Strangeness and the Strangers
Imam Ibn ul Qayyim al Jawziyyah
Adoptted by Ammar ibn Abdullah al-Hindi
Based on a booklet by ibn Qayyim entitled al-Ghurbathu wa al-Ghuraba

"Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something
strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers."

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 kf 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

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

You should know, may Allah have mercy upon you, that strangeness is of three

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]

Thus it is apparent that this strangeness does not cause its bearer any
discontent. Rather it is a comforting strangeness, a solace to the
believers. This is because he knows that his helpers are Allah, His
Messenger and those who believe [This is a reference to verse 55 of surah
al-Maidah], even if all of mankind left and abandoned him. These strangers
are again described in a hadith narrated by Anas ibn Malik, in which the
Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "It is possible that a disheveled, dusty
person, with not many belongings [Literally, "with two headdresses"], who is
not noticed among the people, if he asks of Allah, Allah will fulfill his
prayer." [Reported by at-Tirmidhi and al-Hakim. Al-Albani said it is
authentic.] Al-Hasan al-Basri [a very famous Follower – tabi` - known for
his piety, asceticism and knowledge] said, "A believer is a stranger in this
world, he is never afraid of its humiliation, and he never competes for its
glory. The people are in one situation and he is in a different situation.
The people are content with him, yet he is in turmoil [Literally, "tired"]
with himself."

From the characteristics of these strangers that the Prophet (peace be upon
him) described is the holding on to the sunnah of the Messenger (peace be
upon him), even if the people abandon it. They, the strangers, leave all the
innovations that their people invent, even if such practices should be
common among them. They also stick to tawheed, even if the people corrupt it
with shirk. They do not ascribe themselves to anything besides Allah and His
Prophet (peace be upon him); they do not, that is, ascribe themselves to a
shaikh, tariqah, particular madhhab or a group of people. They are dedicated
only to Allah, with their sincere worship of Him and Him alone, and to His
Prophet (peace be upon him), by following the path that he followed. These
are the people who grasp the glowing hot embers [A reference to the hadith
that is to follow], even though most of mankind - nay, all of them - blame
them for this. This is the meaning of the statements of the Prophet (peace
be upon him) alluding to the fact that they stick to his sunnah, even if the
people corrupt it.

Allah, all praise be to Him, sent His Prophet (peace be upon him) when
mankind followed different religions, for there were those who worshipped
rivers and trees, and there were those who worshipped idols, and there were
Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. Islam, when it first appeared among these
people, was strange to them. If a person from among them accepted Islam and
followed the call of Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him), he would be
shunned by his family and his tribe. He would live the life of a stranger
among his people. Eventually, however, Islam spread far and wide. The
Muslims became stronger and stronger, so much so that the strangers were
those that did not accept the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be
upon him).

But, alas, Satan deceived mankind again. People took to the ways that their
forefathers, who had accepted Islam, had abandoned until, finally, Islam
became strange again, just like it had started and just like the Prophet
(peace be upon him) had foretold. Nay, indeed, rather the true Islam - that
which the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions were following
[this is a reference to the reply that the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave
when asked what the characteristics of the "Saved Group" were] has become
even stranger to the people then when it initially appeared, even though its
outward signs and external relics are well known and widespread. [This is
what ibn al-Qayyim, wrote in the 8th Century of the Hijrah, wrote. Imagine
our situations six centuries after him. May Allah protect us.]

How can it not be so, when these strangers are only one group among
seventy-two others [the Prophet (peace be upon him) said in an authentic
hadith that this Ummah would divide into seventy-three groups, all of which
would go to Hell except the one Saved Group.], each of which follows its own
desires and takes its passions as gods? Those are the groups that base their
teachings on doubts and innovations and whose sole purpose is the
gratification of their own desires. Thus, the group whose goal is to achieve
the pleasure of Allah by following the path of His Messenger (peace be upon
him) will be the strange one among all of the other groups.

This is why the true Muslims - those that adamantly cling to the Sunnah -
will have the reward of fifty Companions. When the Prophet (peace be upon
him) was asked about the verse, "O you who believe! Take care of your own
selves. If you follow right guidance, no harm can come to you from those who
err" (al-Maidah 105), he said, "Nay indeed, order good and forbid evil until
you see stinginess being obeyed, and desires being followed, and this world
preferred [over the next], and each person being deluded by his own
opinions. Then take care of yourself and leave the common people. For
indeed, after you there will be days of patience, where patience will be
like holding on to glowing embers. Whoever is able to do this will have the
reward of fifty people that do like him." They asked, "O Messenger of Allah,
the reward of fifty of them?" He replied, "The reward of fifty of you"
[Recorded by al-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud with a weak chain but it has
supporting evidence. Al-Albani calls it sahih. See al-Sahiha, #957]. This
reward is due to his strangeness among the people.

So, if the believer whom Allah has blessed with wisdom and knowledge wants
to tread upon this path, the path of Allah, then let him be prepared to
resign himself to the life of a stranger among his people, just like his
predecessors who accepted Islam were treated by the people. For indeed, he
will be a stranger in his beliefs, because his people have corrupted their
beliefs. He will be a stranger in his religion, due to what the people have
done to it. He will be a stranger in his manner of praying, because the
people are ignorant of the prayer of the Prophet (peace be upon him). He
will be a stranger in his ordering of good and prohibiting evil, for the
people have taken what is evil as good and they have abandoned what is good
as evil. In short, then, he will be a stranger in all his matters of this
world and the Hereafter, calling to the path of Allah and withstanding the
harm of all those that go against him.

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.

Glorified be your Lord, the Lord of Honor and Power! (He is free) from what
they attribute to Him And Peace be on the Messengers. And all Praise and
thanks be to the Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.


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