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Ḥanafī, Ḥasan

By:
Issa J. Boullata, Ali Mabrook
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Ḥanafī, Ḥasan

Ḥasan Ḥanafī (often spelled Hassan Hanafi), an Egyptian reformist thinker and professor of philosophy, was born of Berber and Bedouin Egyptian ancestry in 1935. Ḥanafī earned a bachelor 's degree in philosophy at the University of Cairo in 1956 and a doctorat d ’état at the Sorbonne in 1966. He taught Arabic at the École des Langues Orientales to supplement a fellowship while he was a graduate student in Paris (1956–1966). On his return to Egypt, he taught medieval Christian thought and then Islamic philosophy at the University of Cairo, where he continues to be a member of its department of philosophy. As a visiting professor, he also taught at universities in Belgium (1970), the United States (1971–1975), Kuwait (1979), Morocco (1982–1984), Japan (1984–1985), and the United Arab Emirates (1985), and he was academic consultant at the United Nations University in Tokyo (1985–1987).

As a student at Khalīl Āghā Secondary School in Cairo (1948–1952), Ḥanafī was introduced to the thought and activities of the Society of the Muslim Brothers. In the summer of 1952, he formally joined the Muslim Brothers and, as a University of Cairo student (1952–1956), fully participated in their movement until they were banned. His studies and travels overseas broadened his intellectual horizons and helped to deepen his conviction that Islam has a leading role in world culture as a unique program for humanity. A staunch supporter of the populist ideals of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 (frustrated, in his opinion, by President Anwar el-Sadat, 1970–1981), he believes in a fusion of these ideals within a revitalized, reinterpreted Islam in order to form what he calls “the Islamic Left” and bring about national unity in Egypt, social and economic justice for the downtrodden masses, a democratic state free from Western domination and Zionist influence, the unification of the Arab world, and the restoration of Islam to a central position in world culture.

Ḥanafī 's major intellectual contribution is a lifetime project that he calls Al-turāth wa-al-tajdīd (Heritage and Renewal). Apart from his journalistic articles in Arabic—written originally for the general public and later collected in Qaḍāyā muḥāsirah (Contemporary Issues, 2 vols., Cairo, 1976–1977), Dirāsāt Islāmīyah (Islamic Studies, Cairo, 1981), Dirāsāt falsafīyah (Philosophical Studies, Cairo, 1988), and Al-dīn a al-thawrah fī miṣr : 1952–1981 (Religion and Revolution in Egypt: 1952–1981, 8 vols., Cairo, 1989)—Ḥanafī is engaged in producing a multivolume scholarly study. It reconstructs the Islamic heritage in a new historicist and critical interpretation; it reassesses Western culture within a decentering and downsizing critical approach; and it builds a new hermeneutic of religious culture on a global scale in which Islam is the ideological foundation of a modern humanity liberated from alienation and provided with a comprehensive program of positive action leading to happiness, peace, prosperity, and justice for all.

Ḥanafī divides his project into three “fronts,” each of which has a theoretical introduction and is planned to be completed in several books. The fronts are the following: “Our Attitude to the Old Heritage” in seven multivolume books; “Our Attitude to the Western Heritage,” originally planned to be in five books but later reduced to three; and “Our Attitude to Reality” in three books.

Of these planned works, only some have been published. Al-turāth wa-al-tajdīd: Mawqifunā min al-turāth al-qadīm (Heritage and Renewal: Our Attitude to the Old Heritage, Cairo, 1980) introduces the project and offers a conspectus of its content and direction. Min al-ḥaqīdah ilā al-thawrah: Muḥāwalah li-iḥādat bināʿ ḥilm uṣūl al-dīn (From Doctrine to Revolution: An Attempt to Rebuild, the Science of Religious Fundamentals, 5 vols., Cairo, 1988) is the first book of the first front. It is an attempt to reconstruct past Islamic theology, showing, on the one hand, its rational relation to divine revelation in the Qurʿān and, on the other, its circumstantial relation to the historical conditions to which its development succumbed as it tried over the years to consolidate Islamic dogma and to defend its worldview against internal sectarian dissension and other religions. Ḥanafī argues that human beings and history are at the center of Islamic religious consciousness, and so he integrates the needs of modern Muslims into the Islamic theology he reconstructs, thus creating a liberation theology intended to serve as a revolutionary ideology enabling Muslims to face modern challenges and fight poverty, underdevelopment, coercion, Westernization, and alienation.

His most recent work is a hefty tome entitled Muqaddimah fī ḥilm al-istighrāb (Introduction to the Science of Occidentalism, Cairo, 1991), which he offers as a theoretical introduction to the second front of the project and as a temporary substitute for the three books on the Western heritage, while he continues writing the planned volumes of the first front. In addition to creating the discipline of Occidentalism opposed to Orientalism, its purpose is to stem Westernization among Muslims and to offer a critical reconstruction of Western culture showing its limitations, its provincialism, and its conditioning by its own circumstances. Ḥanafī sees the Western heritage as a historical product in which divine revelation is no longer central, unlike the Islamic heritage that is strongly based on divine revelation recorded in the Qurʿān, from which all aspects of Islamic civilization and history flow. He argues against the claim of Western culture to universality and makes great efforts to reduce it to what he believes to be its natural size within world culture. His analysis of Western consciousness from its beginnings to modern times leads to the conclusion that it is in crisis today and overcome by self-doubt and nihilism, whereas Islamic consciousness is on the rise to take its rightful place of world leadership, if properly oriented.

Despite Ḥanafī 's genuine interest in the Muslim masses, he has never gathered a popular following, and his influence has been limited to academics, students, and other intellectuals. The significance of his thought lies in the fact that he has forcefully articulated the modern Muslim need for self-assertion. For him, Muslims are not mere objects of study or manipulation by others; they are subjects in their own right. Islam, as he has reinterpreted it, is a viable way of life that can and should have a leading role in the world.

In addition to more journalistic articles collected in a few books published later, Hanaf ī published in 2002 the second of the planned works dedicated to the first front of his project, entitled Min al-Naql ila al-Ibdaʿ (From Transmission to Innovation), in nine volumes. Seeking to encourage Arabs to innovate instead of ceaselessly borrowing from the West, Hanaf ī sought to rebuild the experience of the classical Arabs when facing the old Greek philosophers, focusing not only on their creative assimilation of the Greek philosophical legacy but also on their innovative addition to this legacy. He has organized the book into three main topics, which are, respectively, transmission, transformation, and innovation. One of these three topics has been dealt with in three volumes. Needless to say, he was arguing, in this attempt, against the Orientalist view, according to which Islamic philosophy is regarded as a mere footnote to Greek philosophy.

Two years later, the third work of the same first front, dedicated to jurisprudence, also was published. Hanaf  ī argues, in the book entitled Min al-Nass ila al-Waqiʿ (From Text to Reality), that the classical legal system was completely based on texts, at the expense of reality, which was totally marginalized. Against this point of view, and having in mind the main idea of the Andalusian scholar, Abū Ishāq al-Shātibī (d. 1388), regarding the intentions (maqāsid) of the sharīʿah, he tries to bring reality into the core of the legal system.

Hanaf ī 's project can be critically challenged. The main challenge lies, paradoxically, in the fact that the project, which is supposed to rebuild the heritage historically, seeks to do this outside history. The problem is that the author is forced by his phenomenological methodology, whereby essence and significance can only be built within the self, to overlook historical development and change.

Bibliography

Ḥanafī 's works not mentioned in the text include the following: Les méthodes d ’exégèse: Essai sur la science des fondements de la compréhension, ḥilm uṣūl al-fiqh (Cairo, 1965); Religious Dialogue and Revolution: Essays on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Cairo, 1977); L ’exégèse de la phénoménologie: L ’état actuel de la méthode phénoménologique et son application au phénomène religieux (Cairo, 1980); and La phénoménologie de l ’exégèse: Essai d ’une hermeneutique existentielle à partir du Nouveau Testament (Cairo, 1988). The 1965, 1980, and 1988 publications represent his triple doctoral dissertations at the Sorbonne.

Ḥanafī edited a journal entitled Al-Yasār al-Islāmī: Kitābāt fī al-Nahdah al-Islāmīyah (Cairo), no. 1 (1981), which discontinued publication thereafter. He was also editor and/or translator of the following: Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī Baṣrī, Al-Muḥtamad fī Uṣūl al-Fiqh, 2 vols. (Damascus, 1964–1965); Namādhij min al-Falsafah al-Masīḥīyah (Alexandria, 1968); Spinoza: Risālah fī al-Lāhūt wa al-Siyāsah (Cairo, 1973); Lessing: Tarbiyat al-Jins al-Basharī wa-Aʿmāl Ukhrā (Cairo, 1977); Jean-Paul Sartre: Taʿālī al-Anā Mawjūd (Cairo, 1978); Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini, Al-Ḥukūmah al-Islāmīyah (Cairo, 1979), and Jihād al-Nafs, aw, al-Jihād al-Akbar (Cairo, 1980).

Sources on Ḥanafī and his work include Issa J. Boullata, Trends and Issues in Contemporary Arab Thought, pp. 40–45 (Albany, N.Y., 1990), and Marc Chartier, “La rencontre Orient-Occident dans la pensée de trois philosophes égyptiens contemporains: Ḥasan Ḥanafī, Fuʿād Zakariyyā, Zakī Nağ īb Maḥmūd,” Oriente Moderno 53.7–8 (July–August 1973): 603–642.

See also Shahrough Akhavi, “The Dialectics of Contemporary Egyptian Social Thought: The Traditionalist and Modernist Discourses of Sayyid Qutb and Hasan Hanafi,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 29:3 (August 1997): 377–401.

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