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Ḥanīf (Arabic: حنيف‎, Ḥanīf; plural: حنفاء, ḥunafā') refers to one who maintained the pure monothestic beliefs of the patriarch Ibrahim. 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 (Arabic: Ibrāhīm) which was "submission to God" (Arabic: 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]", with a secondary and subsequent meaning of "to become circumcised". 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 submitted their whole selves to God in the way of Abraham:

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

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 in the Quranic verse 9:107 and later allied with the Quraysh then moved to Taif and onto Syria after subsequent Muslim conquests.2
  • Abu Qays ibn al-Aslaṭ2

As a name

Ḥanīf, can also be a common Arabic proper name with the meaning, "true believer" or "righteous one". The name is used throughout the Muslim world including non-Arabic speaking cultures.

See also


  1. ^ Köchler 1982, p. 29.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Peters 1994, pp. 122-124.
  3. ^ a b c Watt 1974, pp. 117-119.


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