Hanifiyah in polytheistic Arabia, leading to an Islamic


Hanifiyah is the name given to Abrahamic
religions or hanif religions1.  Western
scholars have extensively discussed the true meaning of the term; earlier
Abrahamic religions used it to describe paganism. Later Muslim scholars
referred to individuals interested in monotheism as hanif during pre Islamic Arabia. In Islamic traditional text it
simply means monotheist person who neither follows Christianity or Judaism. Abrahamic
ties were fixated at the core of Islamic belief. Hawting argues the derivation
of the word Hanifiyah from Islamic
traditions reflects two sets of principles. The first identifying Islam
indistinguishably with Hanifiyah religions
and the latter the Qur’an a revelation made in Mecca and Medina. The first
belief is justified through the documentations on the mirroring of monotheistic
beliefs in polytheistic Arabia, leading to an Islamic Ka’ba being established after Muhammad’s emigration to Medina. The
revelation of the Qur’an in Mecca and Medina leads to the description of Mecca
being affiliated with the mushrikun. In
particular the polytheistic beliefs of Mecca, and the Ka’ba hold sacred
monotheistic values in the Qur’an. In accordance to the Islamic traditions
polytheism was not only referred to as mushrikun,
as they weren’t ignorant of the existence of god, but also held others to
the same level of supremacy ultimately carrying the works of shirk2.
This in time allowed Muhammad to deflect Islam as the true renewed
monotheistic religion as the salvation from Arabian paganism and dishonoured
monotheism. A Christian writer from the fifth century Sozomenus re-classifies
historic elements of Abraham had been corrupted by pagan neighbours there the
views held by later monotheistic Arabs in the era of Islam cannot be associated
with “hanif” viewpoints3.


The Ka’ba plays a significant role in the
development of Islam. The Meccan Haram was
guided by a unification of different Quraysh
tribes during the early Muslim pilgrimages. The location of the Ka’ba being in Mecca holds to the fact
that Mecca was a diverse city with a status of crucial occupied geographical
crossroads connecting to the Arabian Peninsula. 
Muhammad can be described as a product of the Meccan setting; in his
early years much of his development came from his missionary career in Mecca. A
vital understanding in the early development of Islam derives from the factors
based on the commercial culture of Mecca, the polytheistic beliefs of the
inhabitants, and the engagement in monotheistic themes via trade and foreign
settlers. The demolishment of the Ka’ba during
the thirty-fifth year of Muhammad’s life is the pinpoint of Islamic acceptance
amongst the people of Quraysh4.
In accordance to the Qur’an the Ka’ba
had previously been destroyed when the people of Noah had died at sea,
Ishmael son of Abraham was ordered to rebuild the Ka’ba with use of its original foundations5. There
is a general trend amongst Islamic tradition that the Ka’ba a sacred sanctuary needed renewing in times of jahiliyya. The people of Quraysh delegated tasks amongst them in
the redevelopment, as they begun the demolishment they were wary of their
actions declaring a halt to the demolishment if God is angered by their actions6.  They take the sign that God is pleased with
their actions and proceed further. It has been reported in Al-Tabari’s writing
the men of Quraysh vowed that the
first person to walk through the doors of the newly built Ka’ba is the “trustworthy one”, this happened to be Muhammad. The
people of Quraysh accepted this, as
Muhammad kindly gestures they all cover the Ka’ba with cloak and settles the
dispute of where the black stone of the Ka’ba
shall sit. We see the vast acceptance of Islam the region despite the long
lasting conflict, the people of Quraysh
are accepted in the political and administration of Muhammad’s policies. The
significance of the Ka’ba also
portrays the sacred sanctuaries’ prior to Islam. In addition Islam was able to
provide vital economic necessities to statesman through the continued expansion
and waking on the conquest of wealthy territories7.

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1 Ibid,.117.

2 G. R Hawting, The Idea of Idolatry and the Emergence of Islam: From Polemic to
History, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 20-21.

3 Cook, Muhammad, 81.

4 Al-Tabari, History of al-Tabari: Muhammad at Mecca, trans W. Montgomery Watt
and M. V McDonald (New York: State University of New York Press, 1988), 51-58.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibn Ishaq, Life of Muhammad, 86.

Asghar Ali Engineer, “Origin and Development of Islam,” Social Scientist vol 3, no
9 (April. 1975): 39.  www.jstor.org/stable/3516149.