By Emma Regan, Jordan Maxwell Ridgway, Hayley Gray and Ella O'Neill
At the end of 2022, Europe’s largest bookshop, specialising in Middle Eastern literature, went through a tough time and had to close after experiencing economic difficulties. The Al Saqi Bookshop, based in Westbourne Grove in London, closed its doors after forty-four years of enlightening its customers with art and literature of the Arab world, leaving a hole in the community which now is in much need of filling. Not only did it become a special place for Arabs in the UK and Europe, but it was also a place for Arabs wanting to purchase books which are banned in their own countries. Alongside that, it hosted public events, open discussions and debates, priding itself on its friendly atmosphere within the community.
The legacy of the shop still lives on through its independent publishing houses, Saqi Books and Dar al Saqi, yet one ex-bookseller, Mohammad Masoud, is keen to change all of that by opening up a brand-new bookstore to bring back what the Arab community has lost. Masoud has launched a crowdfunding campaign for this new literary spot and is hoping to bring back that sacred space for all once more.
The campaign aims to crowdfund £90,000 to open the new shop and literary hub called Maqam. ‘Maqam’ loosely translates to ‘sacred space,’ which further illustrates the importance of this project.
The funds will go towards buying Al Saqi’s old stock (about 900 books), payment for the storage unit that will house them, as well as paying for rent and operational and staff costs. Masoud is also planning on supplementing this stock with a further 400 books from his own personal collection.
The shop will sell books from the regions of South West Asia and North Africa, but Masoud also hopes the shop will become a welcoming space for the community as well. He wants to generate a sense of “belonging” and establish a haven to those who love the Arabic language, as well as its literature, culture, history and art. The project has been described as creating “a home away from home.” The aim is that Arabs and non-Arabs alike will delight from learning and re-learning about this culture and help keep it alive.
Masoud has particularly highlighted that he hopes younger generations of readers, who may have felt (or still feel) isolated and marginalised, will be able to find sanctuary at Maqam.
Masoud has set out a clear and accomplishable outline of how he will use the money, once it has been raised, to fulfil his overall dream of creating this special space. Covering both physical building and rent costs, as well as salaries and events, he clearly has a vision for how this space will progress.
He has four goal posts that he is aiming to achieve, with the first being that the initial £25,000 will assist him with buying book stock, creating a proper website and securing a storage unit for the supplies. The next milestone of £50,000 will help provide sufficient resources for half a year’s rent.
Further to this, the next goal of £75,000 will allow Masoud to hire a team to support him, as well as baseline operational costs for six months. The full amount of £90,000 will cover an entire year’s rent and provide a budget for operational costs and events for a whole twelve months post-launch.
Out of this £90,000, that Masoud has set as his overall goal, he has managed to raise just under £14,000 to date and is forging ahead.
Overall, Maqam is an innovative project that taps into an underdeveloped, and often ignored, market of English and Arabic literature; it will serve as an important symbol of collective identity within a cultural institution – especially for young immigrants in London, who have created a vibrant Middle Eastern community within the area. The importance of Maqam has grown increasingly, as it will provide a safe and accessible space for people to read and learn about books that have been banned in the Arab world due to the continued conflict.
Maqam aims to focus on the voices of the younger generations of readers and writers, who have often been marginalised within the publishing industry, and the main goal for the bookshop is to save, capture and evolve what is left of that which represents the community. The bookshop will not just focus on literature but will also be known as a community space where anyone who admires the Arab culture and language can share ideas and stories, as well as embroidery and calligraphy. Maqam is noted to be a home for individuals searching for belonging from any, and every, background – a place where Arabs and non-Arabs can have mutual understanding, education and communication.
This crowdfunding campaign for Maqam is currently live on JustGiving, so don’t hesitate to donate! There will also be the first ‘Maqam’ event in February 2023!