Published in  
May 19, 2024

The Hunafa: The Seekers of Truth

While Makkah had hundreds of idols being worshipped in and around the Ka’bah, some traces of the teachings of Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام still remained. A handful of people abstained from idol worship. These men were known as Hunafa (singular: Hanif) which means "turning away from." They are called the Hunafa' because they turned away from idolatry and shirk to Allah. The way of Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام is also known as Hanafiyyah.

Advent of Idolatry in Arabia

At the advent of the coming of our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ no other Prophet was alive on the face of the Earth, yet the Shariah of few remained. The Shariah of Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام and Ismail عليه السلام which included rites of Hajj, tawaf around the Ka’bah, calling upon Allah, etc remained but slowly got heavily distorted.

Idol worship was a foreign concept among the Arabs. Even the Arabic word for an idol, ‘Sanam’, is clearly derived from the Aramaic term, ‘Selem’. It all began when a man from Banu Khuza’ah named Amr Ibn Luhayy travelled to Syria and saw the grandeur that surrounded an idol called Hubal. The Amalkites were a powerful and successful people who worshipped this idol and attributed their success to the idol. In a case of inferiority complex and wanting to bring this 'glory and advancement' to his tribe he assumed that they must be correct since they are so powerful. He ended up paying a heavy sum for the idol and brought it back into the courtyard of the Haram in Makkah.  Amr was a respected man, a leader of his tribe whom the people loved. That is why when he brought a 'new idea', the people followed him and ended up worshipping the idol. Amr lived around the same time as Fihr who was the founder of the Quraysh. Based on this, it can be approximated that for nearly five hundred years idolatry spread and took root in Arabia.

In another report, as recorded by Imam Ibn Hajar رحمه الله, Amr ibn Luhayy also introduced the worship of the images of Wadd, Suwa’, Yaghuth, Ya’uq, and Nasr. These were the idols worshipped by the people of Prophet Nuh. It is said that a Jinn informed Amr that the images of those gods were to be found at a certain place in Jeddah and asked him to bring them from there and to worship them. [Fath al-Bari]

It is also reported that Amr ibn Luhayy changed the talbiyah for Hajj. The original talbiyah is:

لبيك اللهم لبيك، لبيك لا شريك لك لبيك

Labbayk Allahumma Labbayk! Labbayka la Shareeka laka Labbayk!  

Here I am, O Allah, Here I am! Here I am, You have no partner, Here I am!

Amr ibn Luhayy changed it to:

لبيك اللهم لبيك، لبيك لا شريك لك إلا شريكاً هو لك، تملكه وما ملك

Labbayk Allahumma Labbayk! Labbayka la Shareeka lak Illaa Shareekan Huwa lak Tamlikuhu wa maa Malak

Here I am, O Allah, Here I am. Here I am, You have no partner except for a partner who belongs to You, and You control the partner and all that he controls.

Between Amr ibn Luhayy and Prophet Ismail عليه السلام, hundreds of years passed without any Messenger being sent with guidance to the Arabs. Ignorance prevailed and people started to deviate from the Shariah of Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام. Imam Ibn Ishaq رحمه الله mentions that when the descendants of Prophet Ismail left from Makkah, each group took with them a stone from the sacred precincts as a memento of the Ka‘bah. They would then place these stones at suitable spots in their new settlements, do tawaf around them just as they used to do around the Ka‘bah, and venerated them. Gradually, their succeeding generations began to worship not only those stones but any stone that was similar to their special stone or one that looked special.

The Hunafa

While Makkah had hundreds of idols being worshipped in and around the Ka’bah, some traces of the teachings of Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام still remained. A handful of people abstained from idol worship. These men were known as Hunafa (singular: Hanif) which means "turning away from." They are called the Hunafa' because they turned away from idolatry and shirk to Allah. The way of Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام is also known as Hanafiyyah.

Allah records the dua of Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام in the Qur’an and says, 

رَبِّ اجْعَلْنِي مُقِيمَ الصَّلَاةِ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي ۚ رَبَّنَا وَتَقَبَّلْ دُعَاءِ

O Lord, make me someone who establishes the prayer, and some of my offspring as well. O our Lord, and accept my supplication. [Surah Ibrahim, 40]

Imam Ibn Jurayj رحمه الله said about this ayah, “There will never cease to be - from that time until the Hours comes - some of Ibrahim's descendants who are on the fitrah worshiping Allah.” [al-Durr al-Manthur]

Imam Ibn Hisham رحمه الله narrates that before the advent of the Prophet ﷺ, the Makkans used to have a major festival honouring their idols. It is reported that in one of these festivals, when everyone from the city had left to join the festivals, only 4 men stayed behind. These were the Hunafa. They were: Waraqah ibn Nawfal, Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh, Uthman ibn al-Huwayrith, and Zayd ibn Amr.

1. Waraqah ibn Nawfal ibn Asad رضي الله عنه

This was the paternal cousin of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid ibn Asad رضي الله عنها . Waraqah was nearly 40 years older than her. He eventually chose a blend of Christianity and Judaism for his religion that considered Jesus to be a slave of Allah, without divinity.  He was a scholar of the old scriptures and knew that the emergence of the foretold prophet was forthcoming. When Prophet Muhammad ﷺ narrated his story to him, he immediately recognized Angel Jibreel عليه السلام as the same angel who would visit Prophet Musa عليه السلام. Before his death, he affirmed Prophet Muhammad ﷺ as the Messenger of Allah.‍

Aisha رضي الله عنها  narrated, “Khadijah then took him to Waraqah bin Naufil, the son of Khadijah's paternal uncle. Waraqah had been embraced (a form of) Christianity in the Pre-lslamic Period and used to write Arabic and write of the Injeel in Arabic as much as Allah wished him to write. He was an old man and had lost his eyesight. Khadijah said (to Waraqah), ‘O my cousin! Listen to what your nephew is going to say.’ Waraqah said, ‘O my nephew! What have you seen?’ The Prophet (ﷺ) then described whatever he had seen. Waraqah said, ‘This is the same Angel (Jibreel) who was sent to Musa. I wish I were young.’ He added some other statements. Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) asked, ‘Will these people drive me out?’ Waraqah said, ‘Yes, for nobody brought the like of what you have brought, but was treated with hostility. If I were to remain alive till your day (when you start preaching). then I would support you strongly.’ [Bukhari]

The Prophet ﷺ said, “Do not abuse Waraqah, for verily I saw that there are one or two gardens for him (in Paradise).” [Ibn Asakir]

2. Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh

He was the paternal cousin of the Prophet ﷺ through one of his aunts and the brother of Zaynab bint Jahsh رضي الله عنها . He initially chose Christianity before accepting Islam. He migrated to Abyssinia with his wife. In Abyssinia, he fell into the habit of alcohol and later committed apostasy by embracing Christianity again. ‍After his death, his wife Ramlah Umm Habibah would go on to marry the Prophet ﷺ.

3. Uthman ibn al-Huwayrith

He chose Christianity and eventually moved out of Makkah before the birth of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.‍ It is reported that he went to Rome and was influenced by Trinitarian Christianity. He tried to return and get his people to follow this new religion but he was mocked and abandoned by his tribe. The Romans also abandoned him and he died wandering the wild as a Christian.

4. Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl رضي الله عنه

He is the first cousin of Umar ibn al-Khattab ibn Nufayl. He was most probably the strongest from among the listed Hunafa in terms of pristine monotheistic belief. He did not opt for either Christianity or Judaism.

He travelled to Palestine seeking the true religion of Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام.  He met a Jewish scholar and later on met a Christian scholar as well. It became clear to him that this was not what Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام was upon. He left the place, raised both his hands, and said, "O Allah! I make You my Witness that I am on the religion of Ibrahim." [Bukhari]

He would publicly speak against the Quraysh for their idol worship and offering sacrifices in the name of the idols. The Prophet (ﷺ) met Zayd in Makkah before prophethood. A meal was presented to the Prophet (ﷺ) but he refused to eat from it. It was also presented to Zayd who said, "I do not eat anything which you slaughter in the name of your stone idols. I eat none but those things on which Allah's Name has been mentioned at the time of slaughtering." 

Zayd ibn Amr used to criticize the way Quraysh used to slaughter their animals, and used to say, "Allah has created the sheep and He has sent the water for it from the sky, and He has grown the grass for it from the earth, yet you slaughter it in other than the Name of Allah.” [Bukhari]

He was extremely vocal against the pagan practice of burying daughters alive. He would adopt all of the daughters that the Quraysh wanted to kill and raise them as his own. He would say to him, "Do not kill her for I will feed her on your behalf." So he would take her, and when she grew up nicely, he would say to her father, "Now if you want her, I will give her to you, and if you wish, I will feed her on your behalf." [Bukhari]

It is reported that he died five years before Prophet ﷺ began propagating the message of Islam. The Prophet ﷺ said, "He will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment as his own Ummah." His son, Sa'eed ibn Zayd would go on to become not just a prominent sahabi but one of the ten sahaba promised Jannah.‍

5. Quss ibn Sa'ida

He was a prominent man from the tribe of Banu Iyad who used to publicly warn the Quraysh against idolatry and even composed poetry about it. When his tribe Banu Iyad accepted Islam, the Prophet ﷺ asked them about Quss and they told him that he had passed away. Then Prophet ﷺ asked them to remind him about his poems and they recited these remnants:

يا أيها الناس،
اسمعوا وعوا،
وإذا سمعتم شيئا فانتفعوا،
إنه من عاش مات،
ومن مات فات،
وكل ما هو آت آت.

"O people!

Listen to me and understand!

And when you hear, then benefit!

Because whoever lives, of a surety will die!

And whoever dies, has finished!

And everything that Allah has decreed, will indeed come about!"

يا معشر إياد،
أين ثمود وعاد،
وأين الآباء والأجداد،
أين المعروف الذي لم يشكر،
والظلم الذي لم ينكر،
أقسم قس بالله إن لله لدينا أرضى من دينكم هذا

"O people of Iyad!

Where is Thamud, and where is Ad?

Where are your fathers, and where are your grandfathers?

And who will reward the one who does good but he was never rewarded?

And who will punish the one who does injustice but he was never punished?

I swear by Allah that there must be a religion better than the religion you are upon!"

Other than these 5, there are a few other names also worthy of mention.

6. Abu Qais Sirmah ibn Abi Anas رضي الله عنه

Imam Ibn Ishaq​​ رحمه الله mentions that he was from the Banu Najjar tribe of Madinah. He initially chose Christianity but then abandoned it to worship the Lord of Ibrahim عليه السلام alone. He would go to Makkah before the birth of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ ​​hoping to find some truth and even stayed there for a period of time. Not having found anything, he returned to Madinah empty-handed. He is the only Hanif that we know of from Madinah. 

It is reported that he had some knowledge of the nearly forgotten shariah of Prophet Ibrahim عليه السلام as he would do ghusl after intercourse, tell his women to do ghusl after their menses, etc. He was in the last weeks of his life when the Prophet ﷺ made hijrah to Madinah. He accepted Islam and passed away as a Muslim. He was known for his poetry in praise of Allah, following the path of Ibrahim عليه السلام, and criticizing paganism. It is reported from him:

سبّح الله شرق كل صباح ... طلعت شمسه وكل هلال

Glorify Allah every morn with each sunrise 

When His sun appears and with each moonrise

عالم السر والبيان جميعا ... ليس ما قال ربنا بضلال

The knower of every secret and every apparent guidance

Never does our Lord utter anything with misguidance

It is said that Ibn Abbas رضي الله عنه used to visit him to learn this poetry in praise of Allah. He lived up to 120 years of age and passed away in Madinah.

Ayat of the Qur'an were revealed because of his son. Al-Bara narrated, "It was the custom among the companions of Muhammad that if any of them was fasting and the food was presented (for breaking his fast), but he slept before eating, he would not eat that night and the following day till sunset. Qais bin Sirma-al-Ansari was fasting and came to his wife at the time of Iftar (breaking one's fast) and asked her whether she had anything to eat. She replied, 'No, but I would go and bring some for you.' He used to do hard work during the day, so he was overwhelmed by sleep and slept. When his wife came and saw him, she said, "Disappointment for you." When it was midday on the following day, he fainted and the Prophet (ﷺ) was informed about the whole matter and the following verses were revealed:

‏أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ لَيْلَةَ الصِّيَامِ الرَّفَثُ إِلَى نِسَائِكُمْ

'It has been made permissible for you to be intimate with your wives during the nights preceding the fast.' So, they were overjoyed by it. And then Allah also revealed:

‏‏وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الأَسْوَدِ‏

'And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread (of night) (Surah al-Baqarah, 187)'" [Bukhari]

6. Salman al-Farisi رضي الله عنه

He grew up near the town of Isfahan in Persia. His family were Magians (Zoroastrians). His father had become the chief caretaker of the fire that they worshipped. He found a group of Christians and he liked how they prayed. The Persian church had preserved the act of prostration. He was told that Christianity had originated in Ash-Sham. He escaped from his house and joined a caravan to Damascus. He was directed to the bishop of the church. Salman started studying and living under him till he found out that the man was corrupt. 

After the bishop’s death, Salman رضي الله عنه continued in the service of the person who replaced him. The new bishop was an ascetic and loved worship. Salman was greatly devoted to him and spent a long time in his company. After his death, Salman attached himself to various Christian religious figures, in Mosul (Iraq), then in Nisibis (Turkey), then in Ammuriyyah (Turkey), and then back to Damascus and elsewhere. 

Each of these men told him - O my son, by Allah, I do not know of anyone today who follows what I followed. The people are doomed; they have changed and abandoned most of what they used to follow, except for a man in the next place that they directed them to. He is So and so, and he follows what I used to follow, so go and join him.”

The last one told him about the appearance of a Prophet. He said, “O my son, by Allah, I do not know of anyone who follows our way to whom I can advise you to go. But there has come the time of a Prophet, who will be sent with the religion of Ibrahim. He will appear in the land of the Arabs and will migrate to a land between two harrahs (lave fields; land with black rocks), between which there are palm trees. He will have characteristics that will not be hidden. He will eat of what is given as a gift but he will not eat of what is given as charity. Between his shoulder blades is the Seal of Prophethood. If you can go to that land then do so.” [Ahmad]

A group of Arab leaders from the Kalb tribe passed through Ammuriyyah, and Salman رضي الله عنه asked them to take him with them to the land of the Arabs in return for whatever money he had. They agreed and he paid them. When they reached Wadi Al-Qura (a place between Madinah and Syria), they broke their agreement and sold him as a slave to a Jew. Salman worked as a slave for him but eventually, he was sold to the man’s nephew who belonged to the tribe of Banu Qurayzah. This nephew took him with him to Yathrib, the city of palm groves, which is how the Christian at Ammuriyah had described it.

Salman رضي الله عنه eventually found the Prophet ﷺ after the hijrah to Madinah and saw in him all the signs of prophethood that his teachers had told him about. He embraced the Prophet, accepted Islam, and narrated his story to him. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ wanted his companions to hear his story. Salman was kept busy with the work of a slave until he missed attending Badr and Uhud with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ would eventually get the Muslims together to help Salman win back his freedom. Salman رضي الله عنه was regarded as one of the foremost scholars among the Muslims after the passing of the Prophet ﷺ.

7. Abu Dharr al-Ghifari رضي الله عنه

He is Jundub Ibn Junadah. Narrating his story to Abdullah ibn Samit, he said, “My nephew, I used to observe prayer three years before my meeting with Allah's Messenger (ﷺ). I said: For whom did you say prayer? He said: For Allah. I said: To which direction did you turn your face (for observing prayer)? He said: I used to turn my face as Allah has directed me to turn my face. I used to observe the night prayer at the time of the end of night and I fell down in prostration like the mantle until the sun rose over me.” [Muslim]

He travelled to Makkah seeking news of the man who claimed prophethood. He survived on nothing but Zamzam for 30 days and despite this, he put on weight. One night, he met the Prophet and Abu Bakr. The Prophet presented the message of Islam to him and he immediately accepted. He was hosted by Abu Bakr that night and finally ate food after 30 days.

He publically went to Ka'bah, where the Quraysh were present, and said, "I bear testimony to the fact that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah." The Quraysh attacked him and made him fall down, until Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib came and leaned over Abu Dharr to protect him and rebuked them, "Woe be upon you, don't you know that he is from amongst the tribe of Ghifaar and your trading route to Al-Shaam passes through (the settlements of this tribe)." At this, the Quraysh let him go. [Muslim]

The Prophet ﷺ told him, "I have been shown the land abounding in trees and I think it cannot be but that of Yathrib (Madinah). You are a preacher to your people on my behalf. I hope Allah would benefit them through you and He would reward you." Abu Dharr returned to his family and they accepted Islam. Eventually, half his tribe accepted Islam and the latter half embraced Islam when the Prophet ﷺ came to Madinah. [Muslim] Abu Dharr would go on to become one of the closest companions and disciples of the Prophet ﷺ. At his deathbed, Abdullah ibn Mas’ud رضي الله عنه said, “It was true what the Prophet ﷺ said about you; You walk alone, die alone, and will be resurrected alone.”

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