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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.[1]

According to some[citation needed] the followers of Maslamah bin Habib and the Banu Hanifa were called or referred to (either by others or by themselves) as "Hanif".

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 Syrian and Arabian religion and used to taunt early Muslims.[3] According to Christoph Luxenberg, Hanif probably denoted a pagan and was, positively connoted, attributed to Abraham, who, although a pagan, did not worship idols.[4]

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:

Ḥanīf opponents of Islam from Ibn Isḥāq's account:

See also[edit]


  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.
  4. ^ Christoph Luxenberg The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran Verlag Hans Schiler 2007 ISBN 9783899300888 p. 55-56