A former bookseller at London’s largest Arabic bookshop, which closed at the end of 2022, has set up a crowdfunding appeal to launch a new bookshop and community space.
Al Saqi Books in Bayswater opened in 1978, and sold books on the Middle East and north Africa in English, and on all subjects in Arabic. It closed on 31 December, with bookshop director Salwa Gaspard saying it was a “difficult decision that had to be made because of recent economic challenges, such as the sharp increases in Arabic-language book prices”.
The bookshop was founded by André and Salwa Gaspard and the late Mai Ghoussoub, three friends who had settled in London from war-torn Lebanon. Its publishing arms Saqi Books and Dar al Saqi remain open, operating from new premises in west London.
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.
“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 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.
Masoud is hoping to buy leftover stock and supplement it with his own substantial collection.
The bookshop’s mission, outlined on its fundraising page, says it will be a “space for sharing ideas and stories, enjoying literature, calligraphy, embroidery”.
“It will be a haven where you can sit down with your favourite book and a hot drink,” the appeal continues. “A home away from home, for the students, writers, professionals, and readers from all walks of life, hoping to engage the wealth of the cultural heritage Maqam has to offer.”
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.