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]
When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was first sent, he was alone, a stranger in a world full of idolatry, heresy, and corruption. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was sent to change these circumstances and to bring the people back to the worship of Allah, establish them on the right way, and convey to them the Message of their Lord.
A few people of noble and uncorrupted character believed in him. They rallied around him and supported him in his mission. Most of them were from Mecca, and a few of them came from other tribes that inhabited the surrounding areas. All of these believers were strangers in their own lands, alienated from their own people.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) and those who believed in him continued to struggle to support the religion, increase its adherents, and establish a state for it until its strangeness was completely dispelled and all the tribes of Arabia accepted Islam.
This estrangement was first shaken off by the Muslims in Madinah, then from there familiarity with Islam extended to most of the Arabian Peninsula. Mecca was opened up and delegations from the tribes came to offer their allegiance to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and their acceptance of Islam. Allah perfected the religion, completed His favor upon the believers, and chose for them Islam as their way.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not die until after Allah blessed him to see the religion achieve acceptance throughout Arabia.
Upon his death, however, the first rift appeared in the history of the Muslims. It was the first disagreement ever to occur between them, the disagreement about who would become their leader. It was resolved amicably.
Then, when the era of the first two rightly guided Caliphs came to an end, another rift occurred. The second caliph, `Umar, was the door by which Allah protected the Muslim nation from civil strife. When he was assassinated by a Persian nationalist, this door was broken down and strife descended upon the Muslims.
When the era of the rightly-guided Caliphs, which lasted for thirty years, came to an end, the third rift occurred. The fourth rift occurred when the era of the first twelve Caliphs came to an end. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Islam will remain strong for the reigns of twelve Caliphs, all of them from Quraysh.” [Sahīh Muslim]
When the preferred generations of Muslims all passed away, the fifth rift took place. The Prophet said: “The best of you is my generation, then the one that follows it, then the one that follows it. It is related from `Imrân b. Husayn who said: “I do not know if the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned two generations after his or three.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim]
This decline continued in the same manner throughout the history of the Muslims.
This return to strangeness could be in a specific place or for a specific period of time, since it is possible for Islam to become strange in a certain place then become strong again and have its strangeness disappear, just like it did the first time. This return to being strange will also occur near the end of the world when only few Muslims will remain. This will be after the appearance of the Antichrist, Gog and Magog, and right before the Final Hour. Then Allah will send a pleasant wind that will take the souls of the believers. Only then will the Final Hour be established.
The estrangement that the Muslim community will face at various times and places is complemented with the promise of a saved group and the promise of a divinely supported group. It is also complemented by the promise of a renewal of faith for the Muslims and a promise of a tremendous amount of good that these strangers – the saved group, the divinely supported group, and others – will receive. This is what is meant by the phrase “…so blessed are the strangers”.
Part of this promise was realized early on, in the help and support that the first Muslims received from Allah, in the way that Allah had people – both Muslims and non-Muslims – protect those strangers, first in Mecca, then in Ethiopia, then in Madinah. The worldly affliction that those earliest Muslims suffered from was compensated for in this world by the pleasure and sweetness of faith that made them forget the bitterness of their suffering.
Likewise, the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave the strangers who will come after them the glad tidings of salvation. He promised them that they would ultimately prevail over those who opposed them. He promised them what is more general and comprehensive than all of that, for he promised them tremendous good, both in this world and the Hereafter, as indicated by his words “…so blessed are the strangers.”