by Al-Hàfidh Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbalï (736H-795H)
from Kashf-ul-Qurbah fï Wasfi Hàli Ahlil-Ghurbah
Concerning the statement of the Prophet (s) : “Islàm began as something strange and will return to being strange, as it began” ,
Imàm Al-Awzà’ï (r) said:
“As for this, then it does not mean that Islam will go away, but rather it means that the Ahl-us-Sunnah will go away, up to the point that there will not remain in a land, any from them except one person.”
Based on this understanding, there can be found in the statements of the Salaf much praise for the Sunnah and their describing it as being strange, and describing its adherents and followers as being few.
Al-Hasan Al-Basrï (r) used to say to his companions: “O Ahl-us-Sunnah! Be gentle with one another and may Allàh have mercy on you. For indeed, you are from amongst the fewest of people.” 
Yunus Ibn ‘Ubaid (r) said: “There is not a thing more stranger than the Sunnah. And what is more stranger than it, is the one who knows it.”
Sufyàn Ath-Thawrï (r) said: “Treat the Ahl-us-Sunnah kindly, for verily, they are strangers.”
The understanding of the term “Sunnah” to these scholars, was the way of the Prophet (s) – that which he and his companions were upon – free from Doubts (Ash-Shubuhàt) and Desires (Ash-Shahawàt). Due to this, Al-Fudail Ibn ‘Iyàd (r) used to say: “Ahl-us-Sunnah is he who knows what is entering his stomach from the halàl.”
That is because the consumption of halàl is from the greatest aspects of the Sunnah, which the Prophet (s) and his companions were upon.
Then it remained the custom of the majority of the later scholars, from the scholars of hadïth and other fields, that the Sunnah consisted of what was free from Doubts in regards to Creed. This was especially the case with issues such as the belief in Allàh, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Last Day, and other issues such as Qadar and the merits of the Sahàbah. They compiled literary works concerning this knowledge and named them books of “Sunnah”. This knowledge was only labeled with the name “Sunnah”, because its significance was tremendous and all those who opposed it were on the brink of destruction.
And as for the complete Sunnah, then it is the path that is free and safe from Doubts and Desires, as has been stated by Al-Hasan, Yunus Ibn ‘Ubaid, Sufyàn, Al-Fudail and others besides them. Due to this, its adherents are described as strange because of their small number and rarity in the Last Days.
This is why it has been mentioned in some of the previously stated reports that they are: “A righteous people surrounded by people abounding in much evil. Those who disobey them are greater than those who obey them.” 
In this is an indication of the smallness of their amount in number and in the amount of those who answer and accept their call. We also are made aware of the greatness in number of those who oppose them and disobey them.
That is why it is reported in numerous ahàdïth, praise for the one who sticks firmly to his Religion during the Last Days. And that he who does so will be like one who holds tightly onto hot pieces of coal. And that the one who acts upon it, will receive fifty times the reward more than those before him.  This is because he will not find any supporters in doing good deeds.
These strangers are of two categories: The first of them are those who rectify themselves when the people have become corrupt. The second category contains those who rectify what the people have corrupted of the Sunnah. And this (latter one) is the most highest and virtuous of the two categories.
The strangeness of the believer during the Last Days
At-Tabarànï and others transmitted with a chain of narration that has some speculation  to it from the hadïth of Abu Umàmah that the Prophet (s) said:
“Verily, for every matter there is a progression and a regression. And verily from the progression of this Religion is what you used to be upon from blindness and ignorance and what Allàh sent me with. And verily from the progression of this Religion is that the clan was taught (Islàm) by its family members, to the point that there was not found amongst them (the tribes) anyone except for one evildoer or two evildoers. So these two were oppressed and degraded. When they want to speak, they are restrained, subdued and persecuted. And verily from the regression of this Religion is that the tribe acts harshly against its family members, to the point that there is not seen amongst them anyone except one faqïh (one with understanding) or two faqïhs. Thus they will both be oppressed and degraded. If they speak and command the good and forbid the evil, they are restrained, subdued and persecuted. And they will not find any supporters or helpers in that matter.”
Thus, the believer who is knowledgeable of the Sunnah and who possesses understanding of the Religion, is described in this hadïth as being one who during the Last Days – at the point of its corruption – will be oppressed, debased and not able to find any helpers or supporters.
At-Tabarànï also reported with a weak chain of narration on the authority of Ibn Mas’ud (r) that the Prophet (s) said:
“And verily from its signs (i.e. the Hour) is that the believer will be in the sight of his tribe lower (in status) than the young sheep.” 
And it is recorded in the Musnad of Imàm Ahmad that ‘Ubàdah Ibn As-Sàmit said to one of his companions:
“It is imminent that should your life be prolonged for you, you will see a man who recites the Qur’àn upon the tongue of Muhammad (s) repeating it and displaying it, allowing its halàl and forbidding its haràm. He will then be lowered in his status and his position will be neglected amongst you and considered just as the position of a dead donkey.”
And similar to this is the saying of Ibn Mas’ud:
“There will come upon the people a time in which the believer will become lower than the bondmaid.”
Indeed the believer will only be debased in the Last Days due to his strangeness in front of the evildoers from among the people of Doubts and Desires. Every one of them will hate him and abuse him because of his opposing of their way by following his way, and because of the seeking of his goal over their goal, and because of his evidences over what is with them.
And when Dawud At-Tà’ï died, Ibn As-Samàk said:
“Indeed Dawud looked with his heart at what was in front of him and the sight of his heart overtook the sight of his eyes. So it was as if he no longer saw what you were looking at, and as if you could not see what he was looking at. And you were amazed at him, and he was amazed at you. It became strange to you that he was alive in the middle of death.”
And from among them was he whose own family and children would hate him due their loathing of his condition.
‘Umar Ibn ‘Abd-il-‘Azïz once heard his wife say: “May Allàh relieve us from you.” So he said: “Amïn.”
Our Salaf (predecessors), during their lifetimes, would mainly describe the believer with strangeness as has preceded in their narrations.
And from the words of Ahmad Ibn ‘Àsim Al-Andàkï, who was one of the biggest scholars at the time of Sulaimàn Ad-Dàrànï, was:
“Indeed, I have reached from all the times, a time when Islam has returned to being strange as it began. In it, the description of truth has returned to being strange as it began. If you were to turn to the scholar, you would find him being tested with the love of this worldly life and the love for honor and authority. And if you were to turn to the worshipper, you would find him ignorant in his worship, deceived a face fallen victim to his enemy Iblïs. He has mounted to the highest levels of worship while being ignorant of how to perform them so how can he be at that level? And the rest of the people are from among the ignorant followers, simple-minded and quick to follow a way, as if he were a wolf looking to steal a sheep, or a hungry lion, or a fox on the prowl. This is the description of the people of your time from the carriers of knowledge and the Qur’àn and the callers of wisdom.” 
This was the description of the people of his time. So how much has the situation increased and the crisis become greater after it. Indeed, it has reached a point that would have never been thought of nor imagined.
Clinging onto the Sunnah during the time of affliction
At-Tabarànï reported from the hadïth of Abu Hurairah that the Prophet (s) said:
“The one who clings onto my Sunnah at the time of the corruption of my Ummah will receive the reward of a martyr.” 
And Abu Ash-Shaikh Al-Asbahànï reported with a chain connected to Al-Hasan (Al-Basrï), that he (r) said: “If a man from the first generation of Muslims were sent (to us) today, he would not recognize anything from Islàm except for this prayer!”
Then he (r) said: “I swear by Allàh, that if he were to live to the time of these evils, he would see the innovator calling unto his innovation, or the individual involved with the worldly life calling unto his worldly affairs. Then Allàh would protect him and his heart would long for that which the Salaf as-sàlih (pious predecessors) were upon. And so he would follow their footsteps and act according to their ways. For him there will be a great reward.”
Ibn Al-Mubàrak reported from Al-Fudail from Al-Hasan that he once mentioned the rich and extravagant man who has authority and who amasses wealth claiming that he has no end in it. And then he mentioned the misguided innovator who sets out against the Muslims with an unsheathed sword, changing the meaning of what Allàh has revealed concerning the disbelievers in favor of the Muslims. Then he said:
“Your Sunnah, and I swear by the One besides whom there is nothing worthy of worship except Him, is between these two: between the self-sufficient one and the hard-hearted, the extravagant one and the ignorant. So have patience upon it, for indeed, Ahl-us-Sunnah are from amongst the fewest of people, those who do not fall into the category of the extravagant ones in their excessiveness nor do they fall with the innovators in the following of their desires. Rather, they bear with patience upon their Sunnah until they meet their Lord. So be that way, if Allàh wills!” 
Then he (r) said:
“I swear by Allàh, that if a man were to reach these evils, he would hear someone say: ‘Come over to me!’ and someone else say: ‘Come over to me!’ So he would say: ‘No! I do not want anything but the Sunnah of Muhammad (s)’, seeking after it and asking questions on it. Indeed this one will be given a great reward. So be that way, if Allàh wills!”
 What is meant by the term Ahl-us-Sunnah [or Ahl as-Sunnati wal-Jamà’ah] are all the Muslims who follow the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and the Jama`ah. They learn it, act upon it, and teach it to others. They consist of the scholars, their students and those that follow in their footsteps.
 This report was recorded by Al-Làlikà’ï. Badr Al-Badr indicated its weakness in his notes to Kashf-ul-Qurbah. However, a similar narration to this one has been recorded by Ad-Dàrimï (1/72) and its wording is: “For verily, Ahl-us-Sunnah are the least of people in number who have preceded, and they are the least of people in number who remain.” This narration is authentic.
 This narration was recorded by Al-Làlikà’ï in his Sharh Usul ‘Itiqàd Ahl-is-Sunnah (1/64) and it was mentioned from him by Ibn Al-Jawzï in Talbïs Iblïs.
 Musnad Ahmad (2/177) and its checking has been stated previously.
 This saying is based on the following hadïth attributed to the Prophet (s:”Verily, after you there will come times requiring patience. (In those days) the one who holds fast to that which you are upon will have the reward of fifty amongst you. He will receive the reward of fifty (the one holding onto the way of the companions in later times).”This hadïth was reported by Al-Maruzï in As-Sunnah (no. 35), At-Tabarànï in Al-Kabïr (17/117), Abu Dawud in his Sunan (no. 3441), At-Tirmidhï (no. 3057), who declared it sahïh, and Ibn Màjah (no. 4014).
 Al-Haithamï (r) said: “In its chain is ‘Alï Ibn Yazïd and he is rejected.” [Majma’-uz-Zawà’id: 7/261].
 The hadïth is as Ibn Rajab stated in that it has a weak chain of narration.
 Hilyat-ul-Awliyà (9/286)
 This is a weak hadïth reported by Abu Nu’aim who attributes it to At-Tabarànï. Al-Haithamï (1/172) said: “In the chain is Muhammad Ibn Sàlih Al-‘Adawï. I did not find anyone that wrote a biography for him. The rest of the narrators are reliable.” Abu Nu’aim labeled it strange (gharib) from ‘Abd-ul-‘Azïz from ‘Atà.
 The chain quoted for this report by Ibn Rajab is not authentic. However, a similar narration to this can be found in Sunan Ad-Dàrimï (1/71-72).
 He is Kumail Ibn Ziyàd An-Nakha’ï (r). He was one of the righteous and noble amongst the Tàbi’ïn. He was captured and killed by Yusuf Al-Hajàj Ath-Thaqafï in 82H. See Al-Ma’warifah wat-Tàrïkh (2/481) of Al-Fasawï (r).