When a twelve-year-old publishes a book –not about fairy tales or superheros, but about the meaning of life– you know something’s up, and that there’s a young philosopher in the making.
Despite the fact that she never really thought of philosophy as a career path, the winner of thirty literary awards, Youssra Hamouda, realized her passion when she was taking a philosophical thinking class in college, and later decided to pursue it as a major.
Having acknowledged the power of philosophy and its vitality, the now twenty-five-year-old launched the initiative Bel Arabi Falsafa, Arabic for Philosophy in Arabic, to simplify philosophical discourse to everyone, and not just the specialized scholars, tackling various topics with regards to religion, ethics, language, and more.
Youssra started the initiative when she was an undergraduate studying Philosophy and Communication and Media Arts at the American University in Cairo (AUC), and later expanded it under the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HUSS) while she’s doing her Masters in Philosophy at the AUC too.
“My goal is to make philosophy something that people in the streets deal with, and use when thinking. I want to change the stereotype of philosophy as an elitist issue that is hard and irrelevant to the practical world,” Youssra said.
Despite her law BA from Cairo University and her Communication and Media Arts BA, Youssra picked philosophy because she believes it does not have the position it deserves in the Egyptian community. “Philosophy helps people think and make choices; nobody can live without it. We have to think critically and philosophically even in the simplest things,” she added.
When we asked Youssra if she thinks that urging people to think deeply on a daily basis can sometimes burden them more, she instantly stressed that living without this “burden” makes people irresponsible. “Philosophical thinking is a humanitarian duty for each person. One can’t live without understanding their actions and their consequences,” said Youssra.
In her TEDxGUC talk, Youssra stated that she acknowledges the fact that philosophy is not easy. Yet, it does not mean it’s not for everyone. “When people go to school, they start learning maths and physics. Nobody doubts the fact that people can’t live without basic maths. I believe that philosophy is even more important because it’s an issue of life,” she explains.
Operating for about two years now, Bel Arabi Falsafa gives one workshop with a series of lectures per semester. They have lately been invited to conduct their workshops outside campus in other universities such as Masnoura University and organizations like UNESCO.
This outsourcing helped them increase their number of attendees from twenty people to 300, per session. They also raised their followers’ database to 6,000.
Youssra is currently working on her thesis about the meaning of life –ironically, thirteen years after her first book with the same concept. She argues that philosophy cannot just be studied theoretically. “Philosophy, by definition, should not be a discipline, it is to live a contemplative life. You live according to your thoughts, and its within the capacity of every human,” Youssra says.
For Youssra, the ultimate goal of Bel Arabi Falsafa is to really cause an impact on people’s mindsets, reflecting on their day-to-day lives. For her personal achievements, Youssra’s ambitions reached dreaming of winning the Nobel Prize in Literature (fingers crossed).
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