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Title: Hanif  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Ubayd-Allah ibn Jahsh, Rahmanism, Chrislam, Hagarenes, Khattab ibn Nufayl
Collection: History of Islam, Islamic Terminology, Quranic Words and Phrases
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Ḥanīf (Arabic: حنيف‎, Ḥanīf; plural: حنفاء, ḥunafā') meaning "revert" refers to one who maintained the pure monotheistic beliefs of the patriarch Abraham. More specifically, in Islamic thought, they are the people who, during the period known as the Pre-Islamic period or Age of Ignorance, were seen to have rejected idolatry and retained some or all of the tenets of the religion of Abraham (إبراهيم, Ibrāhīm) which was "submission to God" (Allah) in its purest form.[1]

Etymology and history of the term

The term is from the Arabic root -n-f meaning "to incline, to decline" (Lane 1893) from the Syriac root of the same meaning. The ḥanīfiyyah is the law of Ibrahim; the verb taḥannafa means "to turn away from [idolatry]". In the verse 3:67 of the Quran it has also been translated as "upright person" and outside the Quran as "to incline towards a right state or tendency".[2] It appears to have been used earlier by Jews and Christians in reference to 'pagans' and applied to followers of an old Hellenized Syro-Arabian religion and used to taunt early Muslims.[3]

Others maintained that they followed the "...religion of Ibrahim, the hanif, the Muslim..."[3] It has been theorized by Watt that the verbal term Islam, arising from the participle form of Muslim (meaning: surrendered to God), may have only arisen as an identifying descriptor for the religion in the late Medinan period.[3]

List of Ḥanīfs

This is a minor list of those who, per traditional Islamic belief, submitted their whole selves to God in the way of Abraham:

The four friends in Mecca from Ibn Ishaq's account:

  • Zayd ibn 'Amr ibn Nufayl: rejected both Judaism and Christianity[2]
  • Waraqah ibn Nawfal: was an Ebionite priest and patrilineal third cousin to Mohammed. He converted to Christianity (Peters, pp. 122-124)
  • 'Uthmān ibn Ḥuwārith: travelled to the Byzantine Empire and converted to Christianity[2]
  • 'Ubaydullāh ibn Jaḥsh: early Muslim convert who emigrated to Abyssinia and then converted to Christianity.[2]

Ḥanīf opponents of Islam from Ibn Isḥāq's account:

  • Abū 'Amar 'Abd Amr ibn Sayfī: a leader of the tribe of Banū Aws at Medina and builder of the "Mosque of the Schism" mentioned
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