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For the village in Iran, see Hanif, Iran.

Ḥanīf (Arabic: حنيف‎, Ḥanīf; plural: حنفاء, ḥunafā') refers to one who maintained the pure monotheistic 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[edit]

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[edit]

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 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-Aslaṭ[2]

As a name[edit]

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[edit]


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