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Hanif Religion

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Ḥanīf religion (Arabic: الدین الحنیف), meaning a religion which conforms to human fitra or nature, refers to the religion propagated by all prophets from Adam (a) to the Prophet Muhammad (s). Being "hanif" is a feature of the divine religion which is straight and without any deviations. And specifically, it is a characteristic of Ibrahim's (a) religion.

Literal Meaning

The word "hanif" (حنیف) means to incline or to lean. It is a noun whose meaning is completed by a complementary noun. So "hanif" means something that inclines; and someone whose fingers are inclined outwards or whose legs are inclined is called "aḥnaf" (Arabic: أحنف).

However, some people hold that "hanif" means straight and direct. Thus in fact a person whose legs are straight is called "ahnaf", but a person whose legs are inclined is only called "ahnaf" for its good fortune, just as in Arabic a person who is sick is called healthy, because of the good fortune.

Terminological Meaning

The word "hanif" has various terminological senses because of its different uses in the exegesis of the Quran, the discipline of hadith, and the Arabic history in the Age of Ignorance (Jahiliyya).

Religion of Ibrahim (a)

During the Jahiliyya period, those who believed in the religion of Ibrahim (a) were called "hanif". Some Quranic verses point to such a usage:

The hanif religion was both a religious and reformist movement whose propagators were characterized as followers of Ibrahim (a)'s religion. Hanif people were skeptical of polytheism and idolatry; they went to caves for worships and reflections, and they called people to Ibrahim (a)'s old religion. These thoughts were influential in undermining the foundations of idolatry in the Arabian Peninsula and led to people's self-consciousness. Thus opposition to idols had already started before the emergence of Islam.

Customs of Some Arabs

The "hanif religion" is also used to refer to customs of some Arabs in the Jahiliyya period, which consisted of some practices that were remnants of Ibrahim (a)'s religion. It included practices such as hajj rituals, circumcision of boys, and janaba ghusl (ritual bath after impurity caused by sexual intercourse or seminal discharge).

As a Title for Polytheists

Jews and Christians used to call polytheists as "hanifs", and thus they used the word to refer to idolatry.

Conversion to the Right Religion

Some people take "hanif" to refer to a person who converts from a wrong religion to the right religion. This terminology is derived from the literal meaning of the word and has been made by some scholars of the Quranic exegesis.

A Muslim

On another terminology, "hanif" means Muslim (a person who submits himself or herself to God), as indicated by the holy Quran in the aforementioned verse (3:67). Imam al-Sadiq (a) said:

  • "To be hanif is to be a Muslim (a person who submits to God)".

and Imam al-Baqir (a) said:

  • "Al-Qanit means obedient and al-hanif means Muslim".

It must be noted that "Islam" has two meanings: it literally means submission and surrender, and it terminologically refers to the specific religion emerged after the revelation of the Qur'an. Sometimes prophets before Muhammad (s) are called Muslims or followers of Islam, which is meant to be in the literal sense of the term.

Divine Religion

"Hanif" is sometimes used as a feature of the divine religion that all prophets are obligated by God to propagate. This religion is called "Islam", that is, submission to God. According to the Quran:

This is characterized as hanif because it conforms to people's fitra or nature. This is why Ibrahim (a)'s religion is also characterized as hanif. According to the holy Quran:

In sources of hadith, the Prophet (s) is reported to have said that "Allah has ordered that I call to his hanif religion".

In the Qur'an

The word "hanif" has occurred 10 times in the Qur'an, and its plural form, "hunafa'" (Arabic: حنفاء) has occurred 2 times. 2 out of its 10 occurrences characterize the religion, 5 of them characterize the Ibrahim (a)'s religion or path, asking people to follow his religion because it was close (or "inclined") to the right religion.

And there are two occurrences of the word characterizing Ibrahim (a) himself; one of them occurs in the above verse (3:67), and the other one occurs in the verse:

The uses of the word "hanif" in the holy Quran imply monotheism that is apprehended by fitra and the outlook of prophets, particularly Ibrahim (a), and that it is contrary to polytheism. The verses (Quran 6:79, Quran 30:30 and others) show that there is a connection between being hanif and fitra (that is, instinctive grasp of the creator of the world). Some verses (Quran 2:135 and Quran 3:67) imply two issues:

  1. To be a hanif is neither to be a Jew, nor to be a Christian.
  2. It amounts to being a Muslim (in the literal sense, that is, submission to God).

In Hadiths

The word "hanif" and its cognates are very much used in hadiths, with its origin considered to be fitra or the nature on which God has created people.

The most significant use of "hanif" in hadiths is its application to a set of guidelines regarding health issues revealed by God to Ibrahim (a), some of which were practiced by a few Arabs during the Jahiliyya period. These traditions were revived by the Prophet Muhammad (s).

See Also


The material for this article is mainly taken from آیین حنیف in Farsi WikiShia.