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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.
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 Syro-Arabian religion and used to taunt early Muslims.
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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- Zayd ibn 'Amr ibn Nufayl: rejected both Judaism and Christianity
- 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
- 'Ubaydullāh ibn Jaḥsh: early Muslim convert who emigrated to Abyssinia and then converted to Christianity.
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.
- Abu Qays ibn al-Aslaṭ
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.
- 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.