Hanafi, Hassan (1935–)

views updated May 21 2018


Born in Cairo, Hanafi studied first in Egypt but obtained his PhD in Paris (1966), working with Robert Brunschvig on a thesis entitled Les méthodes de l'exégèse: Essai sur les fondements de la compréhension, 'Ilm usūl al-fiqh. Hanafi has been a professor of philosophy in Cairo University since 1967 and has written many substantial works, three of which are particularly significant. He produced a study in five volumes on political theory, From Dogma to Revolution (in Arabic, 1985), an eight volume inquiry (in Arabic) on the links between religion and revolution in Egypt that focuses also on contemporary Islamic trends (Religion and Revolution in Egypt, 1989). The perspective of the foundation of an "Islamic left" leading through religion to a reconstruction of politics is outlined in the book and represents the main political approach of the author. The collected papers of Islam in the Modern World (1996) (two volumes) cover a wide range of topics from philosophy and theology to sociology and politics.

Hanafi's philosophical method is grounded in phenomenology and hermeneutics and he is particularly effective in applying this method to Islam. Consciousness and history acquire great importance accordingly. Islam is not merely a religion, according to him, but above all an ideology that connects the temporal and the sacred. Thus the outward (social and practical) and the inner (related to conscience) dimensions of human reality are but two aspects of the same phenomenon. Theology must become anthropology in order to allow humanity to make faith the tool of transformation of economic and social relations. The translation of theology into anthropology needs firstly the Husserlian epoché on God's essence; and secondly a new orientation of the object of theology. The center of revelation as the science of God is no longer God but humanity. Revelation is the science of humanity because humans are its objects and interlocutors. In this transformation of theology into anthropology, God keeps his value as telos, the goal of human activity in front of which all are equal. God is not logos, but praxis; not an idea, but a form of practice. Consequently, in Hanafi's view, Islam is a religion of revolution and justice prompting everybody to refuse any subordination to oppressive power and to claim the liberation of the world and its people in the name of God.

Hanafi criticizes Orientalism as a science aimed at colonial submission. He believes that the Third World's peoples have to develop a science of Occidentalism in order to get a fresh cultural, political, and philosophical stance. Then they will be able to join Europe and North America in its modernity and recover their role in universal history (these ideas are discussed in Hanafi's Introduction to the Science of Occidentalism, in Arabic, 1991). From the perspective of intellectual recovery, Hanafi believes a new interpretation of Islamic heritage (turāth) is vitally important, because the reconstruction of a historical consciousnessnamely traditionis the direct path to development. Among the applications of this new reading are an inquiry into the traditional science of hadith (the traditional sayings of the Prophet) which Hanafi acknowledges has a historical character, and into Qur'anic exegesis that is envisaged to require an interpretation linked not only to explanation, but also to understanding, and not only to knowledge, but also to awareness.

See also Hermeneutics; Islamic Philosophy; Justice; Revelation.


Akhavi, Shahrough. "The Dialectic in Contemporary Egyptian Social Thought: The Scripturalist and Modernist Discourses of Sayyid Qutb and Hasan Hanafi." International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 19 (1997): 377401.

Boullata, Issa J. Trends and Issues in Contemporary Arabic Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.

Campanini, Massimo. "Hasan Hanafi e la fenomenologia: per una nuova politica dell'Islam." Oriente Moderno 4 (13) (1994): 103120.

Esposito, John L., and John O. Voll. "Hasan Hanafi. The Classical Intellectual." In The Makers of Contemporary Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Hanafi, Hasan. Islam in the Modern World. Cairo: Anglo-Egyptian Bookshop, 1996.

Hanafi, Hasan "Théologie ou Anthropologie?" In Renaissance du Monde Arabe. Gembloux, Belgium: Duculot, 1973.

Salvatore, Armando. "The Rational Authentification of the Turath in Contemporary Arab Thought: al-Jabiri and Hasan Hanafi." The Muslim World 85 (1995): 191215.

Massimo Campanini (2005)

Hassan Hanafi

views updated Jun 08 2018

Hassan Hanafi

Egyptian philosopher Hassan Hanafi (born 1935) interpreted Islamic philosophy to the Western world and Western philosophy to the Arabic world.

Beginning in his student days and continuing throughout his career, Hanafi (also known as Hanfi in the Middle East) showed an interest in exploring both Islamic philosophic traditions and Western philosophy and in developing relationships between these cultural heritages that have sometimes clashed. Born in Cairo on February 13, 1935, Hanafi began teaching in the University of Cairo while he was still an undergraduate there. Gifted with an inquiring mind, he found himself wondering about the contradictions between what he learned from his instructors and what he read in books by such distinguished Islamic thinkers as Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, the latter of whom influenced him deeply. Simultaneously he was attracted by writings of the French sociologist Guyau, the philosopher Bergson, and the German idealists Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.

After earning his B.A. in 1956, Hanafi studied at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne) for ten years. Here he continued to explore the relations between Western and Arabic philosophy. He was greatly influenced by Jean Guitton, the foremost philosopher in Paris at that time. In 1959 and 1960 he read the complete works of Edmund Husserl in the German language. He came to admire the great philosophers of protest, Spinoza and Kierkegaard. From Paris he went to Rome for the 1964 sessions of Vatican Council II.

Already in the Paris years Hanafi did extensive writing. With colleagues he prepared for publication two volumes by Abu al Hussain al-Basri (Al Mu'tamad Pi Usul al-Fiqh 1964, 1965). At the same time he was completing and publishing his two doctoral dissertations and a third book in French. In these three volumes he investigated European Consciousness from the point of view of a non-European researcher, declaring the end of European Consciousness and a new beginning of Third World Consciousness. He also used phenomenological methods for the study of religion.

After completing his Ph.D. in 1966 Hanafi joined the faculty of Cairo University. In the following years he translated several European works into Arabic: an Anthology of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (to show the use of reason in religion and politics, to show the application of historical criticism to sacred scriptures, and to define the role of a free citizen in a free country), Gotthold Ephram Lessing's Education of the Human Race, and Jean-Paul Sartre's The Transcendence of the Ego. Meanwhile, he was developing his own philosophy in a series of books. The titles of some of them (translated into English) gave significant clues to their purposes: Contemporary Issues, Volume I on Arabic thought (1976) and Volume II on Western thought (1977); Tradition and Modernism (1980); Islamic Studies (1981); and the five-volume From Dogma to Revolution (Min al-Aqida ila al-thaura; 1986).

Hanafi's reputation brought him many invitations for visiting professorships at the University of Toulouse (1969), the University of Louvain (1970), Temple University (1971-1975), the University of Khartoum (1976, 1977), the University of Kuwait (1979), the University of Fes, Morrocco (1982-1984), and the University of Tokyo (1984-1985). From 1985 to 1987 he was scientific consultant in the United Nations University in Tokyo. In 1988 he returned to his home base in Cairo University.

To those westerners who thought of Islam in terms of religious dogmatism and fanaticism, Hanafi's work came as a surprise. He saw it as a continuation of a classical Islamic tradition of rationality and universalism. Avicenna (ca. 980-1037), the Arabian physician and philosopher, was the author of treatises that influenced European medical thought from the late 12th to the 17th century; and Averroes (1126-1198), the Spanish-Arabian philosopher, made Aristotle familiar to Western Europe and thus influenced the Christian thought of Thomas Aquinas. In a comparable way Hanafi sought to develop out of the Islamic tradition a philosophy that welcomed the best in modern rationality. He stated his program in two "Platforms" issued in Egypt: "al-Turath wa al-Tajdid" and "Our Situation from Western Tradition: Introduction to Westernization."

In the structure of his philosophy, Hanafi developed a "triple feeling theory, " appropriating historical feeling, speculative feeling, and practical feeling as resources for rebuilding Islamic culture. He found in Islamic monotheism the basis for a universalism of ethical principle, in which the norm and criterion is "the Good Deed." He sometimes referred to the "three horizons" of human experience: spiritual values, science, and technology. He advocated a synthesis of the three: "If Science affirms man as cognition, Technology links him to Nature and Spiritual Values incite him to face eternity."

Further Reading

The best source for Hanafi's thinking was his own publications. Additional information on Hassan Hanafi and on Islamic thought can be found in Kazuo Shimogaki, Between Modernity and Post-Modernity: The Islamic Left and Dr. H. Hanafi's Thought: A Critical Reading (Japan: 1988). Another Muslim philosopher, Shabbir Akhtar, in A Faith for All Seasons (1991) proposed that Islam should consider being more pluralistic and humanistic and less theistic. □