As a young man motivated by a revolutionary political activism, Hanafi associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Later Hanafi studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. Since 1967, he has been a professor of philosophy in Cairo, as well as a visiting professor at universities in France, the United States of America, Belgium, Kuwait and Germany.
Hanafi is a disciple of the phenomenologist Osman Amin, and published a trilogy in which he used Husserl's methods to reconstruct classic Islamic philosophy and to critique the sources and development of European consciousness. Hanafi's interpretation of Islam has also been described as socialist and he has elaborated on the concept of an "Islamic Left", interpreting Islam in a socialist manner. He also promotes an interpretation of Islam supporting the development of a global ethics.
Hanafi has acted as an adviser to the InterAction Council, a coalition of 26 former prime ministers and presidents. He is also a member of the Association for Intercultural Philosophy, which encourages a dialogue among philosophers from all over the world. He is one of the original signatories of A Common Word Between Us and You, an open letter by Islamic scholars to Christian leaders, calling for peace and understanding.
Controversy over his apostasy
Hassan Hanafi's book "An Invitation for Dialogue" has been accused by conservative Islamic scholars as heresy and apostasy.
His liberal opinions about Islam have infuriated conservative Islamic scholars and Azhar. For example, he stated that the name of the God should be changed to "Transcendence." Conservative scholars from Azhar refuted that Hanafi is distorting Islam.
There was a fatwa, an Islamic opinion issued by Islamic scholars that condemned Hanafi as an apostate. This has raised controversy in Egypt, as many liberals disagreed with the charge that Hanafi was an apostate.
(In Egypt) In an Egyptian magazine he declared that his main discpiles in Egypt are:
- Murphy, Caryle (2002) "Chapter 11: New Thinking in Islam" Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: The Egyptian Experience Scribner, New York, page 220, ISBN 0-7432-3743-9
- Khuri, Richard K. (1994) "A Critique of Hassan Hanafi Concerning his Reflections on the Scarcity of Freedom in the Arab-Muslim World" page 88 In Mardin, Şerif (ed.) (1994) Cultural transitions in the Middle East E.J. Brill, Leiden, pp. 86-115, ISBN 90-04-09873-9
- Fornet-Betancourt, Raúl (1999) "Hassan Hanafi (Cairo, Egypt)" Quo vadis, Philosophie?: Antworten der Philosophen: Dokumentation einer Weltumfrage Wissenschaftsverlag Mainz, Aachen, Germany, page 138, ISBN 3-86073-694-9, in German
- Tymieniecka, Anna-Teresa (2002) "Phenomenology and Contemporary Islamic Thought Phenomenology World-wide: Foundations, expanding dynamisms, life-engagements: a guide for research and study Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, the Netherlands, page 320, ISBN 1-4020-0066-9
- Hanafi, Hasan (1965) Les méthodes d'exégèse: essai sur la science des fondements de la compréhension "ʻIlm Uṣul al-fiqh" République arabe unie, Conseil supérieur des arts, des lettres et des sciences sociales, Cairo, Egypt, OCLC 2894354; Hanafi, Hasan (1980) L'exégèse de la phénoménologie: l'état actuelle de la méthode phénoménologique et son application au phénomène religieux Dar al-Fikr al-Arabi, Cairo, Egypt, OCLC 11867001; Hanafi, Hasan (1988) La phénoménologie de l'exégèse: essai d'une herméneutique existentielle à partir du Nouveau Testament Anglo-Egyptian Bookshop, Cairo, Egypt, ISBN 977-05-0917-5
- Olsson, Susanne. 2006. Islam and the West in the Ideology of Hasan Hanafi. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International.
- Murphy, Caryle (2002) "Chapter 11: New Thinking in Islam" Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: The Egyptian Experience Scribner, New York, page 219, ISBN 0-7432-3743-9
- "Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities" InterAction Council, 1 September 1997, page 10
- "Signatories" official website of "A Common Word"
- http://www.arabwestreport.info/?q=node/3749 (Arab West Report Art. 27, Week 20/2000, May 10 - May 16)
- http://www.arabwestreport.info/?q=node/4809 (Arab West Report Art. 11, Week 25/2001, June 20 - June 26)
- http://www.arabwestreport.info/?q=node/14399 (Arab West Report Art. 2, Week 51/1997, December 19 - December 25 )