On Ḥanīf as an Arabic Qur’anic Term

Ivan Dyulgerov, Sofia University “St. Kiment Ohridski”, Bulgaria
IQSA International Conference 2021 “Giorgio La Pira” Library, Palermo, Italy
Panel 3. Qur’anic Perspective and Other Views

Two antithetical assumptions appear to be similarly implausible: that the Qur’anic vocabulary does not include Biblical and Bible-related borrowings, or that these borrowings tend not to be at least partly Arabicized, i.e., occurring with meanings that more or less differ from what their non-Qur’anic cognates usually denote. Taking this statement as a presupposition, I intend to apply it to the particular case of the Qur’anic word ḥanīf, which has become notorious for the conspicuous discrepancy between its monotheistic Qur’anic semantic and meanings attested in other Semitic languages (such as “pagan” for the Syriac ḥanpā, or “godless” for the Hebrew ḥanēf). By counting on a predominantly semantical approach, I will argue that is hard to consider the Qur’anic ḥanīf as a genuine development of a pre-Qur’anic Arabic term. Furthermore, I will provide support to the hypothesis of Francois de Blois, which confirms antedating insights of Margoliouth and Ahrens, and according to which the loanword in question must have had entered the pre-Qur’anic Arabic milieu within a formulaic phrase attributing to Abraham the state of being ḥanpā “gentile”. Thereafter, I will do my best to demonstrate, however, that the Qur’an did not actually adopt the sense of “gentile” through this term. The suggestion I would like to argue for, instead, is that in the Qur’anic text, ḥanīf acquires a quite different, metaphorical sense. It seems to be derived from the idea of an entirely arched curvedness into the left (ḥanaf) as op- posed to the notion of such a curvedness into the right (qasaṭ). An implementation of the latter is to be found in (Q. 72:14–15) at the outset of which one can read: “Wa-’innā minnā l-muslimūna wa-minnā l-qāsiṭūna – Among us some are muslims (submitted to God) and some of us are perverse”. This is how due to an arguable association between ḥanīf and muslim (as in ḥanīfan musliman – Q. 3:67) an apparent semantical opposition between ḥanīf and qāsiṭ “perverse” might come to light.