A former Al Saqi Books employee wants to create a new home for Arabic literature in London.
Al Saqi Books, the largest Middle Eastern specialist bookseller in Europe, closed in December 2022 owing to economic difficulties.
Now, Mohammad Masoud – who oversaw day-to-day operations at the bookshop for two years – has launched a campaign to revive the Westbourne Grove premises as a new Arabic literary hub named "Maqam".
Now Mohammad Masoud, a Palestinian bookseller who worked at the bookshop, has launched an appeal to raise money for a new bookshop called Maqam, saying he is “fundraising for a dream”. The fundraiser has so far raised just under £6,000 of its £90,000 goal.
Masoud is aiming to crowdfund £90,000 to launch the new space and is currently in talks with the building’s owners. The funds will ultimately go towards buying Al Saqi’s old stock of 900 books, securing a storage unit in which to keep them and paying for rent, operational and staff costs further down the line. He plans to supplement the book stock with his personal library of 400 titles.
With Maqam – which loosely translates as “sacred space” – Masoud hopes to develop a new template for Arabic bookshops. As well as selling literature from the SWANA (South West Asia and North Africa) region, Maqam will be a community space.
“Maqam will be a home for people who love the Arabic language and are searching for belonging,” he continued. “This will be a space for everyone regardless of background to engage with Arabic art and literature no matter how much or little they know of it, a space where both Arabs and non-Arabs can come to learn, relearn and enjoy this wonderful and rich language.”
Masoud also hopes to expand people’s understanding of Arabic language and culture, while opening the region’s literature up to a younger generation of readers. “Arabic literature and language is not just about the Quran, or Islamic books or politics and religion,” he said. “It’s about culture. We have a rich history. In Arabic, the same word can have many meanings. We need to teach younger generations how beautiful the language is.”
Masoud said that since moving to London in 2020 he had seen a number of spaces focused on Arab culture and community close down, and he was keen to “create a space that will host our creativity for much longer generations”.
Maqam would be a “safe space for all these creative minds” and “protect and develop the literary scene in the UK and Europe”, said Masoud.
Maqam, according to the crowdfunding website, “aims to put a special focus on the voices of the younger generations of writers and readers who have been marginalised and excluded in the publishing industries” from the south-west Asian and north African region. As well as being a bookshop, it will also be a community space.
The bookshop’s mission, outlined on its fundraising page, says it will be a “space for sharing ideas and stories, enjoying literature, calligraphy, embroidery”.
The appeal has four milestones; the first £25,000 raised will go to buying book stock, setting up a proper website and acquiring a storage unit, while the £50,000 milestone will secure half a year’s rent.
The third milestone of £75,000 will cover hiring a team and operational and stocking costs for six months, while the full £90,000 will cover a year’s rent and full operational and events budget for 12 months from launch.
The crowdfunding campaign is currently live on JustGiving and Masoud plans to host the first Maqam event in February 2023.