“Islam began as a stranger and shall return as a stranger as it began. So give glad tidings to the strangers”.
The meaning of this hadeeth is that Islam began as something strange, when the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) called people to Islam, but no one responded except a few here and there. At that time it was something strange because its people were like strangers amongst others and they were few in number and weak, in contrast to the great numbers and strength of their enemies who persecuted the Muslims.
Then some of them migrated to Abyssinia, fleeing for the sake of their religion from tribulation and to save themselves from persecution and oppression, and the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) migrated at Allaah’s command to Madeenah, after suffering intense persecution and in the hope that Allaah would give him people to support him in his call and support Islam.
Then Allaah fulfilled his hopes, granted victory to his troops and supported His slave. The Islamic state was established and Islam spread, with the help of Allaah, throughout the land; Allaah made the word of kufr lowest and the word of Allaah is (always) uppermost, for Allaah is Almighty, All-Wise, and honour, power and glory belong to Allaah, and to His Messenger, and to the believers [cf al-Munaafiqoon 63:8].
This continued for a long time, then division and dissent spread among the Muslims and weakness and failure increased gradually, until Islam once again became something strange as it was in the beginning. But this is not because of their small numbers, because at that time they will be many, rather it is because they do not adhere to their religion or cling to the Book of their Lord and the teachings of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), apart from those whom Allaah wills.
So they become distracted and turn to competing in worldly matters, like those who came before them, and they fight amongst themselves for leadership. So the enemies of Islam found a way in and they colonized their lands, humiliated their people and treated them badly. This is the way in which Islam returned to being strange as it was in the beginning.
A number of scholars – including Shaykh Muhammad Rasheed Rida – thought that this hadeeth gives ‘glad tidings’ of a second victory of Islam after it becomes something strange again. They base this on the metaphor used by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) when he said, “… will revert to being strange as it began.” So just as following the initial strangeness and alienation the Muslims were victorious and Islam spread, this will happen again after the second period of strangeness and alienation.