What is afikra?
A fikra? A’fikra? 3afikra? AFRICA? What is afikra?
That’s a question we get a lot. The name itself is play on words in colloquial Levantine Arabic. When pronounced a’fikra (or 3afikra) it means “on second thought”, but if pronounced a fikra it sounds like the English word “a” and the Arabic word “thought”, as in “a thought”.
Stepping away from the name, the mission of afikra is to cultivate curiosity around Arab history and culture and create a global community committed to sharing intellectual thought on those topics.
How did afikra start?
The idea started after Mikey noticed something about his life that bothered him. It seemed as though there were only two types of flagpoles around which he and his Arab friends congregated while wearing their Arab hats.
That is to say, two types of situations in which he allowed himself to feel explicitly Arab. The first flagpole, if you will, is “Partying with Arabs”: high school reunions, weekend beach trips, weddings, birthday dinner parties, New Years, etc. Partying with friends and family from the Middle East feels like a very Arab thing to do (just as long as your Arab hat doesn’t fall off your head while you are taking another round of doodoo shots).
The second flagpole is “Being an Activist”: lectures on Palestine, vigils in front of the UN, protests in Union Square, fundraisers for Syrian refugees, etc. This is another classic way to feel explicitly Arab while living abroad.
The existence of these two flagpoles was not what bothered Mikey (he actually loves both of them). The troubling thing was the absence of an important third flagpole: “Thinking and Talking About Interesting Things”: going to an art exhibition, checking out a film festival, reading nerdy econ books, sharing interesting new music, watching documentaries, etc. It seemed like Mikey, like the rest of his Arab friends, spent a ton of time “thinking and talking about interesting things” BUT (and this is a big but) whenever he did, it felt like a non-Arab activity. The paradox is that all of his Arab friends are constantly Thinking and Talking About Interesting Things, but for some reason, the myth that Arabs don’t do that sort of thing persisted in his mind. How frustrating!
Creating a third space
So the idea of afikra was born out the desire to dispel that myth. To do that, there needed to be a space dedicated to thinking and talking about interesting things that were (1) unmistakably Arab, (2) unmistakably not about activism and (3) unmistakably not about partying. Mikey pitched the idea to Farah and Leen of having a monthly-speaker-series-event-super-awesome-salon where our friends would take turns presenting on nerdy and interesting topics related to the Arab world. Both of them were super excited about actualizing this idea because they felt the very same frustrations and felt that building this kind of community could help.
After some brainstorming, they decided on a format and some general community norms. The gathering would take place one Sunday evening every month. The venue would alternate month to month between people’s houses. There would be snacks and drinks, but not dinner, which would detract from the main event: the discussion. Speakers would nominate themselves and select whatever topic they wanted to speak about. There would be two topics presented every month. Topics could range from extremely high-brow to hilariously low-brow. The only criteria for a topic would be that (1) it was related to the Middle East, (2) it was interesting enough to carry a 45 minutes discussion, and (3) it was not promotional (whether self-promotional or politically/commercially promotional).
The idea is to find a topic related to the Middle East that you want to explore and then bring everyone along for the ride. In other words, afikra should be about asking questions over giving answers.
We value contribution over consumption.
We value being curious and being nice.
We value being interested in Arab culture more than just being Arab.
We value answering questions over promoting opinions.
We value exploring the less-explored topics.
If you happen to be in NYC, Montreal, DC, Dubai, Beirut, or London, we hope you can make it to our next event. Regardless of where you happen to be, we hope you join our online community and keep in touch.