What does the religion of Haneef mean? Who were the Haneefs in Mecca before the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was given prophethood?

There were the signs of the religion of Abraham (pbuh) in Arabia, which was a monotheistic religion like Islam, the religion of Haneef. People, who acted on this religion though there, had passed a lot of time since Abraham (pbuh), were called Haneefs, referring to the religion of Abraham (pbuh). The term Haneef is used for Abraham (pbuh) in the Holy Quran: Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian but he was (an) upright (man), a Muslim, and he was not one of the polytheists. (1)

People who were called Haneefs hated idols and believed in the existence and oneness of God Almighty (swt). For one example, at a fairground established in honor of one of the idols, such persons as Waraka Bin Nawfal, Obaidullah Bin Jahsh, Utman Bin Khuwairis, Zaid Bin Ameer deemed it disgracefulness and abasement to bow before the idols that are inanimate and unable to do good or evil and announced it publicly. (2)

In addition, some understood the meaninglessness of worshipping the inanimate beings and struggled against that false creed. Omayya Bin Abu Salt, the chief of the city of Taef and one of the noted poets of Arabia, was one of them. Omayya had read the holy books in the Era of Ignorance and converted to the religion of Abraham (pbuh) quitting idol worshipping.

The phrase of Bismiqe Allahummah (In the name of Allah) was first used by him. Afterwards, the Arabs liked it and started to write in the beginnings of their books.

He wrote in his poems about the need for a prophet and argued that prophethood was an indispensable necessity for humanity. Since he had learnt from the previous holy books that there would come, a prophet from Arabs, he wished that that prophet be himself. Therefore, when the duty of prophethood was given to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) he could not resist his envy and did not confirm his prophethood. Furthermore, he wrote elegies for the polytheist killed at the Battle of Badr. (3)

A few Hadiths were reported from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) about Omayya who died in the second year of Hijra (Emigration) without becoming Muslim.

One day, the Noble Prophet (pbuh) was riding seat on a pillion with Shareed Bin Sowaid. He asked his companion, Do you know anything of Omayyas poetry?
Yes, said Shareed and began to recite couplets from Omayyas poems. The Noble Prophet (pbuh) liked the couplets very much and asked him to recite a little more. Then Shareed recited the whole poem and the Prophet (pbuh) told him:
Omayya came very near to be a Muslim. (4)
In another report, he said; Omayyas poetry became Muslim but he himself went astray. (5)

1. The Holy Quran, 3/67
2. Ibn-i Khishâm, Seerah, 1/237-238
3. Bagdadî Mohammad Fehmi, Tarih-i Edebiyyat-ı Arabiyye: 1/19
4. Zebidî, Tajrid Tercemesi: 10/38-39.
5. Bagdadî Mohammed Fehmi, Tarih-i Edebiyyat-ı Arabiyye: 1/43

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