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New Postage Stamp Celebrates Muslim Holiday - 2001-11-22

American Muslims are actively promoting the sale of a postage stamp that commemorates the Muslim holidays, known as Eid, that end the holy month of Ramadan and the annual pilgrimage to holy Islamic city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Muslims see the stamp as an affirmation of their integration into American society.

The Eid stamp was actually put on sale on September 1, but the terrorist attacks of September 11 disrupted efforts to promote it.

With the start of Ramadan, Muslim communities have reactivated the promotion campaign to reach out to other religious communities, or as the stamp's designer put it, to hold a hand out to America.

Ali Abuzaakouk heads the American Muslim Council, which lobbied the U.S. Post Office to accept the idea of a Muslim holiday stamp four years ago. "It's a recognition of our community in America," he said, "a recognition of our religious holiday in America as an American religious holiday and American community."

There are already stamps honoring the holidays of Channukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Cinco de Mayo. or May 5. Mr. Abuzaakouk says it took a three-year letter-writing campaign and support from U.S. legislators to get the idea of an Eid stamp accepted.

Post office spokeswoman Cathy Yarosky says a special committee reviews more than 50,000 stamp design requests a year and chooses only about 30. She said, "They look at past stamp programs and what our very diverse audience looks like and they try to come up with an overall stamp program that's both very interesting to a broad audience and also very educational to the American public."

Miss Yarosky says the Eid stamp is the first Islamic stamp ever issued by the U.S. post office. She agrees its sale takes on special significance in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the initial hostility toward the American Muslim community. "There are seven million Muslims in the United States," she said, "and this is a very big audience, a very large group of people. So we look very closely at diversity in all our stamp issuances and thought this would be a wonderful way to commemorate and honor the Muslim community.

Islamic caligrapher Mohammed Zakaria designed the stamp, which says Eid Mubarak in a flowing Arabic script. He used pens crafted from seasoned reeds from the Middle East and Japanese bamboo from Hawaii. The drawings were done in black ink. But the finished product is an elegant gold script on cobalt blue.

Mr. Zakaria says the classic Ottoman technique weaves the words into a composition. But it took a year and a half to perfect a design that fit into the limited space of a small postage stamp. Mr. Zakaria said, "The challenge is to do it in a way that is artistically acceptable according to the rules of calligraphy and also for it to be beautiful and to be acceptable."

The words are very simple but, Mr. Zakaria says, very universal. Mr. Zakaria continued, "It says 'Eid Mubarak', which means have a blessed festival. I think it's a very good thing in America where anybody should feel happy to use this stamp."

The post office has issued 75 million copies of the 34-cent stamp for sale across the country. Ms. Yarosky expects it will become part of the permanent holiday stamp collection.