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The word Ḥanīf (Arabic: حنيف, Ḥanīf; plural: حنفاء, ḥunafā') designates, according to Islamic belief, one who maintained the pure monotheism of the Patriarch Abraham. More specifically, in Islamic thought, Hanifs are the people who, during the pre-Islamic period or Jahiliyyah, 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" in its purest form.
Etymology and history of the term
The term is from the Arabic root ḥ-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". It appears to have been used earlier by Jews and Christians in reference to "pagans" and applied to followers of an old Hellenized Syrian and Arabian religion and used to taunt early Muslims. According to Christoph Luxenberg, Hanif probably denoted a pagan and was, positively connoted, attributed to Abraham, who, although a pagan, did not worship idols.
Others maintained that they followed the "religion of Ibrahim, the hanif, the Muslim[.]" 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.
List of Ḥanīfs
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This is a minor list of those who, per traditional Islamic belief, submitted their whole selves to God in the way of Abraham:
- All the prophets and messengers after Abraham
- Old Najranites
- Seven Sleepers
- Sa'id bin Zayd
- Shaybah ibn Hāshim
- Banu Hanifa
- Maslamah bin Habib
- Quss bin Saidah
- Khawlah bint Ja'far
- Zayd ibn Amr: rejected both Judaism and Christianity
- Waraqah ibn Nawfal: patrilineal third cousin to Mohammed. He converted to Christianity. He died before Prophet Mohammed declared his Prophethood. (Peters, pp. 122–124)
- Uthman ibn al-Huwayrith: travelled to the Byzantine Empire and also converted to Christianity.
- Ubayd-Allah ibn Jahsh: early Muslim convert who emigrated to the Kingdom of Aksum and then he too converted to Christianity.
Ḥanīf opponents of Islam from Ibn Isḥāq's account:
- Abū 'Amar 'Abd Amr ibn Sayfī: a leader of the tribe of Banu 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 Ta'if and onto Syria after subsequent early Muslim conquests.
- Abu Qays ibn al-Aslaṭ
- Ambros, Arne A; Procháczka, Stephan (2004). A Concise Dictionary of Koranic Arabic. Reichert.
- Hawting, G. R. (1999). The Idea of Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam: From Polemic to History. Cambridge University Press.
- Kaltner, John (1999). Ishmael Instructs Isaac: An Introduction to the Qu'ran for Bible Readers. Liturgical Press. ISBN 0-8146-5882-2.
- Köchler, Hans, ed. (1982). Concept of Monotheism in Islam & Christianity. International Progress Organization. ISBN 3-7003-0339-4.
- Peters, F. E. (1994). Muhammad and the Origins of Islam. SUNY Press. ISBN 0-7914-1875-8.
- Watt, William Montgomery (1974). Muhammad: prophet and statesman. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0-19-881078-4.