Alef is by far my favourite book club in Amman, I believe that I am their favourite author too. I had three great sessions with them last year; at the beginning of the year we discussed “Aroos Amman” (The Bride of Amman) and had a successful public open discussion about homosexuality. Later in the year, they organised a book conference and invited me to present my new book “Janna Ala Al Ard”. A week after that, they hosted me for a first thorough discussion around the concepts of longevity, life and death and other philosophical matters I presented in the book.
Tarek Abdo is the founder of Alef. He is one of those young Jordanians who believe that change can happen and that it is within our hands to overturn the course of events that plagued our societies in the past few decades. He is set on a mission to change the Arab world into a better one.
Alef is not just another book club, it is a social movement that started a change and will make a change. I had the chance to talk to Tarek and asked him the following questions:
Fadi: Hi Tarek, as I said in the introduction, Alef is more than a book club, it is more of a social movement. In your words, you call it a brotherhood. Tell us more about Alef, what is it exactly? How did it start? And what’s your vision for it?
Tarek: Alef club is a non-profit service organization with a stated vision “A better arab world in 2030”, it is a secular organization open to all persons regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender, or political preference.
Members meet every week to discuss books, movies or other subjects. Such social events help us realize our vision.
Alef’s primary motto is “Read to lead”.
Alef brotherhood it is a secret group of leaders that serve and organize our events, if you want to know more about them you have to become a member first.
Fadi: In the conference you explained the name Alef. Why Alef? Is it the first letter of the Arabic Alphabets?
Tarek: Yes Alef is the first letter of all alphabet languages. The letter aleph looks like the human being body however if you take a look on our logo you will see the fusion between the human entity and the letter aleph.
Fadi: We are also intrigued to know about Tarek Abdo. How old are you? What did you study? What are you currently doing? And what are your plans for the near future?
Tarek: I am 24 years old, finished my bachelor’s studies in Marketing from Amman Al-Ahliyya University and planning to pursue a master’s degree in Business administration. I am also working on my dream project “a public speaking academy”.
My next step in the next year is to grow with Alef and go global, starting from Dubai, Cairo and Morocco.
Fadi: Growing a book club must be a challenge in the Arab world. In my 3 sessions with you guys, I noticed a wide reach that I haven’t noticed in other book clubs. How do you reach out to people? Who are your audience? How many other people help you? What obstacles did you face in growing this book club?
Tarek: hehe this is one of our secrets Fadi. In the Arab world, the book has a nerdy stamp; readers are usually known as nerdy and boring. Here in Alef we break this wall, we carry the book to the entertainment department, we are cool readers, we do a lot of crazy things, we ask the forbidden questions, and we try to find an answer to it. We actually want to start the change .
Fadi: I have always said that what we need to do in order to revive the culture of reading in the arab world is bringing the cool factor to the books, thanks for helping in doing that!
Do you see the popularity of the book growing among youth in Jordan? What do you think are the factors that still standing against a mainstream reading culture?
Tarek: I think yes the reading habit started to grow between the youth, because the main factor against this culture is the forbidden questions.
Nowadays there are a lot of young leaders who make the right decision to start asking. They seek the right answers where they can find it best – the book
Fadi: I really enjoyed most of the speaking sessions at the conference. It is an annual conference, right? Tell us more about it? Where did the idea come from? What do you intend to achieve with it? Is it easy to find support/funds for such important cultural activities?
Tarek: First of all, I would like to thank you Fadi for coming to our conference, This idea came from our team after 4 months of starting the club. We thought about a new step for Alef and looked into mass media. We decided on a yearly event to be a speech conference about reading culture and it actually worked.
Honestly it’s very difficult to organize such event, because there are little companies who are interested in supporting the reading audience in Jordan, but our team has found the way to persuade some companies and it also worked.
We also got the full support from Princess Sumayya University in the last conference.
Fadi: How successful was the conference this year? Give us numbers.
– 225 attendance (133 positive feed backs / 5 negative)
– 10 speakers (2 authors, 2 Writers, 2 book clubs founders, 4 Alef Members)
– 3 sponsorships
– 15 volunteers
– 15 social media volunteers
– 4 coordinators
– 25 trending the hashtag of the conference on twitter
– More than 100 signed copy sold for Fadi Zaghmout new book “janna ala al ard”
Fadi: Haha, you helped me sell many books in the conference, thank you for that!
In one of the sessions at the conference you introduced Alef’s debate club. It reminds me of the debate you hosted for me earlier in the year around homosexuality. One thing that I admire about Alef is that you don’t shy of discussing any issue. You are always ready to talk about any topic no matter how sensitive it is culturally, religiously or politically. I see that a formula of success and a needed breath of air in the country. Tell us more about the debate club. When will it start? Do you have any policy in regards of topics planned to be discussed?
Tarek: It will be one of the most important achievements this year, it’s a world class club which discusses everything with no limits, and we call it ASPRDC: ALEF, SEX, POLITICS, RELIGION, DEBATE, CLUB, with a slogan says: “We Talk Up to the Sky”. But it needs more time because of the security approvals and other operational issues we expect to launch it on 1st of July 2015.
Fadi: I know what you are a big fan of Paulo Coelho. Did he help implanting the seed of believing in yourself and what you could achieve in your heart? Which of his books is your favourite? Any favourite quote for him?
Tarek: Oh, Paulo Coelho inspired me when I was down and flooded in fail and doubt, then one of my close friends recommended the alchemist novel to me. I found myself in that novel, I felt like I was Santiago, and Coelho was talking to me, it was such a miracle! Coelho was my guide to the road of success, his books makes me a better person, who loves life, and understand why I’m here.
“and when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it” That’s my favourite quote!
Fadi: That’s one of my favourite quotes too. Paulo Coelho has been a big inspiration for me as well. He planted in us seeds of dreaming big. It actually works for those who believe in themselves.
Who is your favourite Arab author? And favourite Arabic book?
Tarek: Najeeb Mahfooth, “Awlad Haretna or the Children of Gebelawi”
Fadi: What’s next for Alef?
Tarek; The Alchemist Trip reading the Alchemist Novel in:
1- The desert of Rum, Jordan
2- The pyramid of Giza, Egypt
3- Dubai Desert safari, UAE
4- Sahara Desert, Morocco
Stay tuned for more craziness reading ideas.
Fadi: You have already done the first reading of the Alchemist in wadi rum. How was it? tell me about the whole experience
Tarek: hmmm it was an amazing experience. It’s one of our event types called novel stimulation witch is living the same atmosphere for the novel, which will makes the reader understand the message. It brings more inspiration and a chance to think and meditate about the idea of the book,
In wadi rum we followed santiago’s journey in check points reading stations and we put the readers in the same process that Santiago followed in the book (crossing the desert, stealing, being kidnapped, finding real alchemists, learning the desert language, finding his destiny, and going back to his own treasure)
In addition to the spiritual and learning processes, we had fun. Wish you will be with us next time.
Fadi: I hope so! Thank you Tarek! I look forward for that. Best of luck to you and to Alef. Drastic times calls for drastic actions, with so many arab youth falling for religious extremist ideologies, it is good to see others with such passion to stand up and force a change. Alef might be what the arab world needs today. Best of luck!