Concerning his, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, statement: “Islaam began as something strange”, then it is referring to the people before his advent, who were upon widespread deviance. This is as the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “Indeed Allaah looked at the people of the earth and hated them, both Arabs and non-Arabs, except for some remnants that were from the People of the Book.” 
So when the Prophet was sent forth and began calling towards Islaam, his call was not answered at first instance except by a few from each tribe. And those that did accept his call feared from their tribes and families lest they should be subjected to extreme punishment. And they would suffer while being patient with that for sake of Allaah.
Due to their weakness, the (first) Muslims would be frightened by every opposing force and they would flee for the sake of their Religion to far-off lands as was shown when they migrated twice – to the land of Abysinnia, and then when they migrated to Madeenah. And there was from among them, he who was tortured for the sake of Allaah and he who was killed. So those who entered into the fold of Islaam, back in those days – they were the strangers.
Then Islaam spread after the Hijrah to Madeenah and its followers became victorious over every group. After that, the people entered into the Religion of Allaah in multitudes. And Allaah perfected the Religion for them and completed His favor upon them. Then the Messenger of Allaah died, and the Muslims were upon the utmost level due to their firm adherence to their Religion. They were powerful and dominant. And they continued to be upon this condition during the times of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (during their Khilaafah).
Then the Shaytaan (Devil) unleashed his evil plot upon the Muslims and discord fell between them. And the trials of Doubts (Ash-Shubuhaat) and Desires (Ash-Shahawaat) became widespread. These two evils did not stop increasing at all until the plan of Shaytaan was established and the majority of the creation obeyed him.
So from among them were those who entered into obedience to him by way of the evil of Doubts (Ash-Shubuhaat). And from among them, were those who fell into the evil of Desires (Ash-Shahawaat). And from among them, were those who combined between them both. All of that was from what the Messenger of Allaah, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, had warned us would occur.
As for the evil of Doubts:
Then it has been reported on the Prophet through many paths of narration that his ummah would divide into more than seventy sects. This is based on the differing found in the reports concerning the exact number with which they will exceed the number seventy. And it is reported on him, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, that all of these groups will be in the Hellfire, except for one group – and it is that (group) which adheres to what he and his companions were upon (during their time).
And as for the evil of Desires:
It is reported in Saheeh Muslim on the authority of ‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Amr, radyAllaahu ‘anhumaa, that the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “When the treasures of the Persians and the Romans are opened for you, how will your people be?” ‘Abd-ur-Rahmaan Ibn ‘Awf, radyAllaahu ‘anhu, said: “We will say what Allaah has ordered us (to say).” He, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “Or other than that. You will compete against each other, then you will envy one another, then you will turn your backs on one another.” 
And in Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree on the authority of ‘Amr Ibn ‘Awf, radyAllaahu ‘anhu, the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “I swear by Allaah! It is not poverty that I fear for you. Rather, what I fear the most for you is that the pleasures of this world will be presented to you as they were presented to those before you. And you will compete against each other for it, as they competed against each other. And it will destroy you, just as it destroyed them.” 
And there occurs in the two Saheeh collections on the authority of ‘Uqbah Ibn ‘Aamir, radyAllaahu ‘anhu, a hadeeth from the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, with a similar meaning.
And when the treasures of Kissra (Chosroes) were opened for ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab, he began to weep and said: “Indeed this (treasure) did not open upon a people ever, except that Allaah placed discord between them.” 
The Prophet used to fear these two evils (of Doubts and Desires) for his ummah as has been reported in the Musnad of Imaam Ahmad on the authority of Abu Barzah that the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “Indeed, I only fear for you the desires of transgression found in your stomachs and your private parts and the calamities (fitan) that lead people astray.” And in another narration there occurs: “…and the desires (hawaa) that lead people astray.” 
So when a majority of the people fell victim to either or both of these evils, they began to cut off ties with one another and they began to hate one another. This only came after them having been brothers, loving and supporting one another. Indeed the evil of Desires became something common and accepted amongst a majority of the creatures. And it tested people by way of the worldly life and its pleasures. So that became the goal of the people’s striving. They sought after it and became pleased with it. They became angry due to it and they hated for its sake and loved for its sake. Because of this, they would sever family relations and spill blood unlawfully. And for this purpose, they committed disobedience to Allaah.
As for the evil of Doubts and vain desires that lead astray, then it was because of this that the Muslims divided and became sects, some groups declaring others as disbelievers. Thus, they became enemies, divided into groups and parties. This only happened after having been brothers. Their hearts were united upon the heart of one man. So not one of all these sects is saved, except for the one saved sect (Al-Firqat-un-Naajiyah). And they are the ones mentioned in the saying of the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam:
“There will not cease to be a group from my ummah triumphant upon the truth. Those who oppose them will not be able to harm them, nor will those who abandon them, until Allaah’s order comes about (Day of Judgment) and they are in that state.” 
They will be the strangers – the ones who have been mentioned in the previous ahaadeeth – during the Last Days. They are the ones who will correct others when the people have become corrupt. They are those who will rectify what the people have corrupted of the Sunnah. They are the ones who will flee from affliction for the sake of their Religion. They are the ones who will extract themselves from their close relatives (for Allaah’s sake).
This is because they are so few that you will not find any among them in an entire tribe (family), except one or two. In some tribes, you will not find any of them, just as it was when the first people entered into Islaam. This is the way the majority of the scholars have explained this hadeeth.
THE STRANGENESS OF THE SUNNAH AND ITS ADHERENTS
Concerning the statement of the Prophet: “Islaam began as something strange and will return to being strange, as it began”, Imaam Al-Awzaa’ee (rahimahullaah) said:
“As for this, then it does not mean that Islaam 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-Basree (rahimahullaah) used to say to his companions: “Oh Ahl-us-Sunnah! Be gentle with one another and may Allaah have mercy on you. For indeed, you are from amongst the fewest of people.” 
Yoonus Ibn ‘Ubayd (rahimahullaah) said: “There is not a thing more stranger than the Sunnah. And what is more stranger than it, is the one who knows it.”
Sufyaan Ath-Thawree (rahimahullaah) 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 – that which he and his companions were upon – free from Doubts (Ash-Shubuhaat) and Desires (Ash-Shahawaat). Due to this, Al-Fudayl Ibn ‘Iyaad (rahimahullaah) used to say: “Ahl-us-Sunnah is he who knows what is entering his stomach from the halaal.”
That is because the consumption of halaal is from the greatest aspects of the Sunnah, which the Prophet and his companions were upon.
Then it remained the custom of the majority of the later scholars, from the scholars of hadeeth 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 Allaah, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Last Day, and other issues such as Al-Qadar (Divine Pre-Ordainment) and the merits of the Sahaabah. 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, Yoonus Ibn ‘Ubayd, Sufyaan, Al-Fudayl 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 in number 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 ahaadeeth, 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.
 Saheeh Muslim (Eng.): vol. 4, no. 6853. What is meant by the remnants of the People of the Book are those who stuck to their religion upon truth without changing it.
 This hadeeth has been reported from a number of different routes. Perhaps the one most similar to what the Shaikh (Ibn Rajab) is paraphrasing here is that which has been reported by At-Tabaraanee in his Mu’jam-us-Sagheer (no. 724), in which the Prophet said:
“This ummah will split into seventy-three sects, all of which will be in the Hellfire, except for one.” They asked: “And which is that sect?” He, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “(The ones that adhere to) That which I and my Companions are upon today.”
In another narration on the authority of Anas Ibn Maalik, radyAllaahu ‘anhumaa, the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said:
“Every one of them will be in the Hellfire, except one and it is the Jamaa’ah.”
And in another narration on the authority of Abu Sufyaan, radyAllaahu ‘anhu: “The Messenger of Allaah, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, stood amongst us one day and said: ‘Indeed those before you from the People of the Book divided into seventy-two groups. And, indeed, this group (Muslims) will divide into seventy-three. Seventy-two groups will be in the Fire and one of them will be in Paradise. And it is the Jamaa’ah.’”
This latter hadeeth was reported by Ahmad, Al-Haakim, Abu Dawood and others. Al-Haakim authenticated it and Adh-Dhahabee agreed. At-Tirmidhee (no. 2641) also reported a similar hadeeth to it and graded it saheeh. Imaam Al-Albaanee listed all its paths of narrations and different wordings in his Silsilat-ul-Ahaadeeth As-Saheehah (no. 204) and clarified that it is an authentic hadeeth without any doubt about its authenticity.
In summary, the hadeeth and its additions are hasan due to its various paths of narrations, which serve as supporting evidences.
 He means by this: We will praise Him, thank Him and ask Him for an increase in His Bounty.
 Saheeh Muslim (no. 2962) and Sunan Ibn Maajah (no. 3996)
 Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree (Eng.): vol. 5, no. 351
 Refer to Al-Bidaayah-wan-Nihaayah (7/70) of Ibn Katheer for an account of the event. It is recorded in his book under the section of the Battle of Jaloolaa’.
 Imaam Ahmad (4/423) and others reported this hadeeth. Al-Manaawee said that it had a good chain in his book Al-Jaami’-ul-Azhar (1/146). Al-Albaanee graded it saheeh in his checking of At-Targheeb wat-Tarheeb (no. 49)
 Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree (4/252), Saheeh Muslim (no. 170), Sunan At-Tirmidhee (4/504), and Sunan Ibn Maajah (no. 3952)
 What is meant by the term Ahl-us-Sunnah are all the Muslims who strictly follow the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. They learn it, act upon it, enforce 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-Laalikaa’ee. Badr Al-Badr indicated its weakness in his notes to Kashf-ul- Kurbah. However, a similar narration to this one has been recorded by Ad-Daarimee (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. See Dr. Nasr Al-‘Aql’s book Mafhoom Ahl-is- Sunnati wal-Jamaa’ah (pg. 84)
 This narration was recorded by Al-Laalikaa’ee in his Sharh Usool ‘Itiqaad Ahl-is-Sunnah (1/64) and it was mentioned from him by Ibn Al-Jawzee in Talbees Iblees. Dr. Nasr Al-‘Aql mentioned it in his book Mafhoom Ahl-is-Sunnati wal-Jamaa’ah (pg. 85)
 Musnad Ahmad (2/177) and its checking has been stated previously.
 This saying is based on the following hadeeth of the Prophet:
“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 (i.e. the one holding onto the way of the companions in later times).”
Reported by Al-Marwazee in As-Sunnah (no. 35), At-Tabaraanee in Al-Kabeer (17/117), Abu Dawood in his Sunan (no. 3441), At-Tirmidhee (no. 3057), who declared it saheeh, and Ibn Maajah (no. 4014). Imaam Al-Albaanee authenticated it in As-Saheehah (no. 494)
Source: Alleviating Grievances in Describing the Condition of the Strangers, Al-Haafidh Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbalee (rahimahullah), Al-Ibaanah Publishing.