ḤANĪF (pl. Ḥunafā ), Arabic term which occurs many times in the *Koran in connection with true monotheism. The primary meaning and the origin of the word is still to be determined. In pre-Islamic times it seems to have been used for adherents of Hellenistic culture. *Muhammad uses it as a term for the God-fearing, righteous men in the pre-Islamic period, who followed the original and true religion. Abraham was one of them, Muhammad is his true follower, and Islam is the reappearance of the true faith distorted by Judaism and Christianity (e.g., Sura 10:105; 16:121, 124; 30:29). According to Muhammad's biographers, many such God-seekers who lived in Arabia during his lifetime, such as *Umayya ibn Abī al-Ṣalt, did not accept his prophetic mission to the Arabs. In later usage ḥanīf means Muslim.
V.V. Bartold, Muzulmanskiy mir (1917), 48 (Mussulman Culture, 1934); Wensinck, in: Acta Orientalia, 2 (1924), 191; K. Ahrens, Muḥammad als Religionsstifter (1935), 17, n. 3; J.W. Hirschberg, Juedische und christliche Lehren (1939), index; N.A. Faris and H.W. Glidden, in: jpos, 19 (1941), 1–13; W. Montgomery Watt, in: eis2, 3 (1966), s.v.
[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]