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(Sura 10: verse 105) - On being hanif

 Added Aug 29, 2005

Sura 10, verse 105 reads as follows:

"And that you should keep your course towards the religion uprightly (as a hanif); and you should not be of the mushriks." (Qur'an 10:104)

This verse is addressed directly to the Prophet (s.a) and indirectly to us. On the surface it is asking the Prophet to be upright in his religion, and to not be one of the mushriks - one of those who associate gods with God. But, in verse 104, the Prophet's worship was distinguished and raised in purity above the worship of all mankind - so it is likely that this verse refers to something more than simply not being a polytheist?


The Arabic for the word that is generally translated as "upright" is "hanif". Hanif in general usage refers to those people who, in pre-Islamic times, maintained monotheistic beliefs when the society around them had slipped into polytheism. They followed the true nature and disposition given to mankind, which points to a belief in One God. Sura 30:29 says: "So direct your countenance to religion as a hanif, in accordance with the predisposition God has given man. Allah's creation can not be altered. This is the true religion."

Throughout the Qur'an, mention of Ibrahim(a.s.) is connected with the term hanif. Sura 3:67 says: "Ibrahim was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but a 'Hanif', a Muslim, one who is not among the idol-worshippers."

And here in verse 10:105 our Prophet is referred to as hanif in the context of a verse that immediately follows a declaration of the extraordinary purity of the Prophet's worship of Allah. It has already (in verse 104) been made clear that the Prophet is free of the various types of shirk that the rest of us fall into - whether that shirk is a major or minor shirk. There are many levels and forms of shirk and most of us are not free from some form of it, however mild that form may be. But here, the one who is the seal of the prophets, the bearer of the final revelation, the declarer of the absolute, unbreachable unity of God - this man is told by God to be hanif.

So what is it that may distinguish a hanif from other believers in God?

Hanif is a term that the qur'an uses as an elevating, distinguishing term for Prophet Ibrahim. In the instances that Ibrahim is called hanif, the surrounding verses provide clues to the uniqueness of one who is hanif. For example in sura 6:74-79, the qur'an says:


"....We showed Ibrahim the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he might be of those who are sure.

So when the night over-shadowed him, he saw a star; said he: Is this my Lord? So when it set, he said: I do not love the setting ones. Then when he saw the moon rising, he said: Is this my Lord?

So when it set, he said: If my Lord had not guided me I should certainly be of the erring people.Then when he saw the sun rising, he said: Is this my Lord? Is this the greatest?

So when it set, he said: O my people! surely I am clear of what you set up (with Allah). Surely I have turned myself, being hanif, wholly to Him Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am not of the polytheists." (see "On seeing beyond forms")

These verses describe the spiritual vision and state of certainty granted to Ibrahim as a gift from Allah in which a series of perceptions occur that take Ibrahim beyond all the forms of this world to an encounter with the Divine Light.

Only after Prophet Ibrahim has been granted this revelatory experience does the verse go on to say: "Surely I am hanif, and have turned myself wholly to Him Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am not one of those who commit shirk (polytheism)."


He has not turned away completely from shirk until he has journeyed through all the illusory veils and reached a vision of the Source. He is hanif when he has done this because his own true inner nature has awoken and he is able to perceive things as they truly are (their inner reality). "He has visited his own inner planets" (his own inner moon, stars, and sun) "...ascending in this way from heaven to heaven towards the summit..." of his own true nature and disposition...his hanif nature "...until the infinity of God is revealed to him." (Henry Corbin).


Elsewhere in the qur'an, the title of hanif is accorded to Prophet Ibrahim and immediately following this the qur'an has him make the declaration of absolute surrender and tauhid: "My prayer and my sacrifice, my life and death are only for Allah, the Lord of all the worlds...." (6:162)


A hanif is the one who through personal realization, through an inner awakening, places aside all forms of association (of shirk) and arrives at a pure tauhid and a total and absolute surrender - one based on experience and true knowledge, not on imitation and blind following.


Many follow religion as a formula, a series of ceremonies that have been handed down to them and which are followed without full depth of understanding. There is a comfort (and a benefit) in performing rituals but the goal of a ritual is not the ritual itself.

The ceremonies and rituals are symbols, they are indicators, or shadows of greater realities, they are an invitation to embark on the road to discovery of these greater realities - to experience of and verification of these realities - to actual personal knowledge of them. This is why the verse says that the way, the direction, the correct course to the religion (to the din) is through the disposition God has given us - to approach it as a hanif. And it is this approach that will keep us safe from shirk - that will elevate us above all forms of shirk - both apparent and concealed - as it did for Prophet Ibrahim and for others who followed the way of tauhid before the time of our Prophet.

A hanif is one who verifies - so no matter what society or time he lives in, he arrives at the truth through awakening and cultivating the nature that God has placed within him - so the hanif does not deviate when society deviates - he does not follow where society leads - he is not drawn this way and that by the trends and fashions in thought and religion, nor does he bend to the inclination of the times in which he lives, but cleaves to the truth that he knows with certainty (through verification, not guesswork) - the truths learned by means of the internal journey upon which he has embarked.

If you are hungry, you won't be satisfied with a photograph or someone else's description of food - your internal nature and need will drive you to seek out real food, to taste it, experience it, and gain satisfaction and nourishment from it. A hanif is one who is not satisfied with the shadow of religion, the exterior of it, the mere description of it - he is hungry for true religion, and so seeks out the reality which casts the shadow, and beyond that, the Light before which all things are insubstantial shadows.

-Irshaad Hussain

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