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 on Hassan Hanafi

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.

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