pl. Hunafa’. Lit. “one who is inclined.” (1) Anyone sincere in his inclination to Islam. (2) One orthodox in the faith. (3) One who is of the religion of Abraham. (See Majma’u ‘l-Bihar, in loco)
The word occurs ten times in the Qur’an.
I. Six times for the religion of Abraham:-
Surah ii. 129: “They say, ‘Be ye Jews or Christians so shall ye be guided! Say: ‘Not so!’ But the faith of Abraham, the Hanif, he was not of the idolators.”
Surah iii. 60: “Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian, but he was a Hanif resigned, and not of the idolators.”
Idem., 89: “Follow the faith of Abraham, a Hanif, who was not of the idolators.”
Surah vi 162 “The faith of Abraham the Hanif he was not of the idolaters.”
Surah xvi. 121: “Verily Abraham was an Imam a Hanif, and was not of the idolaters.”
Surah vi 79: (Abraham said) “I have turned my face to Him who originated the heaven and the earth as a Hanif and I am not of the idolaters.”
II. – Four times for one sound in the faith –
Surah x. 105: “Make steadfast thy face to the religion as a Hanif and be not an idolater.”
Surah xxii. 32: “Avoid speaking falsely being Hanifs to God, not associating aught with Him.”
Surah xcviii 4: “Being sincere in religion unto Him, as Hanifs, and to be steadfast in prayer.”
Surah xxx. 29: “Set thy face steadfast towards the religion as a Hanif.”
III. – The term was also applied in the early stages of Islam, and before Muhammad claimed the position of an inspired prophet, to those who had endeavored to search for the truth among the mass of conflicting dogmas and superstitions of the religions that existed in Arabia. Amongst these Hanifs were Waraqah, the Prophet’s cousin, and Zaid ibn ‘Anu, surnamed the Enquirer. They were known as Hanifs a word which originally meant “inclining one’s steps toward anything or a pervert. Muhammad appears from the above verses (when chronologically arranged), to have first used it for the religion of Abraham, but afterwards for any sincere professor of Islam.
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam