He was the eldest son of Khan Sahib Syed Diwan Mohammad.
Hasan was educated at Allahabad (M.A., LL. B.) and obtained doctorates from the universities of Erlangen and Heidelberg, Germany, and Oxford University. Dr Zafarul Hasan was the first Muslim Scholar of the Indian sub-continent to secure a PhD from Oxford in Philosophy. His doctoral thesis Realism is a classic on the subject. Prominent philosophers and educationists lauded his work, among them, his teacher Prof. John Alaxander Smith (1863–1930), and Allama Mohammad Iqbal.
He started teaching at the Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India in 1911. In 1913, he became professor of philosophy at Islamia College, Peshawar. From 1924 to 1945 he was professor of philosophy at the Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh - where he also served as Chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Dean of the Faculty of Arts. There, in 1939, he put forward the 'Aligarh Scheme' along with Dr Afzaal Hussain Qadri. They published a scheme ("The Problem of Indian Muslims") proposing three independent States.
From 1945 until the partition of the sub-continent, Dr Hasan was Emeritus Professor at Aligarh. In August 1947, he migrated to Lahore, Pakistan. He started work on a book that he could not complete due to his death in 1949. Only one volume ("PHILOSOPHY - A Critique") was ready, which was published from Lahore by Institute of Islamic Culture in 1988.
He received honours and served on a number of bodies: Member of Court, Member of Executive Council, Finance Co., Com. of Advanced Studies, Aligarh Muslim Univ.; Dir., Jamiat-ut-Tamaddunil-Islami, Bombay; Member, International Academy of Philosophy, Erlangen. Pres., Islami Jamaat, Aligarh. Member: Education Committee, All-India Muslim League; Kant Gesellscaft (Germany); Mind Assn. (England); Philosophical Congress (India); Academic Council of Muslim Univ. at Aligarh.
Philosophy - a Critique (by Syed Zafarul Hasan), Lahore, Pakistan: Institute of Islamic Culture, Lahore (Pakistan), 1988