Question: I would appreciate it if you can shed some light on the following hadith:
“Good tidings are for the stranger: A people who rectify (themselves and others) among people who are in much evil. Those who disobey them are greater in number than those who obey them.” (Ahmad)
Is there any way this hadith implies that just because a majority of Muslims hold a view, it doesn’t make their view correct (i.e. just because Sunni’s make up the majority of Muslims it does not mean that Sunni Islam is correct)?
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
The correct translation is:
“Blessings and glad tidings to the strangers, a few righteous people among many evil ones, those who disobey them are more numerous than those that obey them.”
Narrated from `Abd Allah ibn `Amr ibn al-`As by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad, Ibn al-Mubarak in his Musnad and his Zuhd, al-Tabarani in al-Kabir and al-Awsat, al-Ajurri in al-Ghuraba’ min al-Mu’minin, and al-Bayhaqi in al-Zuhd al-Kabir.
The above chains contain Ibn Lahi`a whose narrations vary from fair to weak if unconfirmed, however, the hadith Masters said that his narrations are sound when certain narrators narrate from him `Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak, `Abd Allah ibn Wahb, `Abd Allah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’, Abd Allah ibn Maslama al-Qa`nabi, Sa`id ibn Abi Sa`id Kaysan al-Maqburi and his father Kaysan cf. Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib (5:330) and al-Arna’ut Tahrir al-Taqrib (2:258-259 no. 3563).
Al-Ajurri’s chain is through Ibn al-Mubarak, from Ibn Lahi`a. This makes this particular wording sahih insha’Allah.
The wording “Blessings and glad tidings to the strangers” is mass-transmitted verbatim (mutawatir lafzi) from 23 Companions while the wording of the above hadith is also mass-transmitted in meaning but not verbatim.
The Hafiz Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said of the above hadith in his book, Kashf al-Kurba fi Wasfi Ahli al-Ghurba:
“The word ‘Sunna’ became, in the terminology of many of the later Sunni Scholars and others, a descriptive term for unadmixed right belief especially with regard to belief in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and also in the matters pertaining to foreordained Destiny and the immense merits of the Companions. They compiled books in that knowledge and named them the books of the Sunna. They were specifying by that term the perfected way, for it is the path that is devoid of fallacies and lusts, as al-Hasan [al-Basri], Yunus ibn `Ubayd, Sufyan [al-Thawri], al-Fudayl [ibn `Iyad], and others said.
“Hence the people of that Path are described as strangers at the end of times because they will be few and they will be strangers to that time. This is why some of the narrations say, as we mentioned previously while explaining the strangers, ‘a few righteous people among many evil ones, those who disobey them are more numerous than those that obey them.’ This shows that they will be few; and few are those that will respond to them and accept from them [what they have to say], but many those that contradict them and disobey them. This is why many hadiths praise those that hold fast to their Religion at the end of times, and describe them as one that is holding a hot coal in his hand, and tell us that one of them will have the reward of fifty of those that came afore, because they will find no help toward goodness.
“Those strangers are two types: those that reform themselves when all others are corrupt and those that reform what the people have corrupted of the Sunna, and this is the higher of the two.” End of Ibn Rajab’s words, Allah have mercy on him and reward him.
As shown in the explanation above, the strangers are the people of pure belief “in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and also in the matters pertaining to foreordained Destiny and the immense merits of the Companions” i.e. the people of the Sunna known as Sunnis. This does not mean that every Sunni is a perfect representative of the Sunna, but only that perfect representation is necessarily found among Sunnis, while other groups have by and large embraced fallacies and lusts.
At the same time, Allah Most High does not look at our names and labels but at our hearts and intentions. And Allah knows best, may He count every sincere Believer among the strangers for His sake.
-Shaykh Hajj Gibril