The U.S. Postal Service recently issued 75 million postage stamps that bear a Muslim holiday greeting in traditional Islamic calligraphy. The stamp apparently has turned out to be a major morale-booster for many of the more than seven million Muslims in the United States.
Etched in the curved penmanship style of Turkish calligraphy, on a silver and blue background, the words on the stamp say, "Eid Mubarak," which is an Islamic holiday greeting that means "Have a blessed feast."
The stamp commemorates two major Muslim feasts, "eid al fit-r," the feast of fast breaking after the month of Ramadan, which is currently underway and eid al-adha, the feast of the sacrifice which follows the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca each February.
Azeezaly Jaffer is vice president for public affairs and communications for the United States Postal Service. Mr. Jaffer says the stamp has nothing to do with the September 11 terrorist attacks. It was designed several years ago and issued ten days before the attacks, which killed more than 5,000 people.
Mr. Jaffer says the stamp was printed as part of a postal service tradition to recognize various ethnic celebrations or holy days. He said, "We have [already] issued a stamp for Kwanza. We've issued a stamp for Thanksgiving. For Cinco de Mayo. It was only a matter of time that we were going to issue a stamp for Eid Mubarak."
But the timing was uncanny. American Muslim advocacy groups say the stamp has helped lift the morale of many who felt stigmatized in the wake of the terrorist incidents. American Muslim advocacy groups report about a thousand hate incidents nationwide from verbal harassment to several cases of homicide.
Aly Abuzaakouk is the executive director of the American Muslim Council, in Washington, D.C. "We, the Muslim community," he said, "were almost considered by some as if there is 'guilt by association,' as if we are responsible for the terrorists. We are not. The terrorists are not part of us. I do feel that the stamp now, and the selling of the stamp and using of the stamp, will give the terrorists the message that 'What you did will not affect our Muslim community in America.' So it is a defining moment for our community, also."
The stamp was actually proposed five years ago by a ten-year old boy. Muhib Beekun, who is now 15, in his second year in high school in the city of Sparks, Nevada is an avid stamp collector. He remembers back in 1996 asking his mother why there was no stamp for Muslims. "'Why can't we have stamp, too?' So she thought it was a good idea. We mailed the idea to the postmaster. That didn't work. We started this massive letter-writing campaign," he said.
His mother said, "Basically, this was a letter-writing campaign between Muslim moms and Muslim kids. The kids would write letters to the postmaster [General of the United States]. We'd give them the address, and we'd contact other moms and they'd make copies of our request - and they'd pass it to everybody in their neighborhood or school. It spread across out the entire country. Eventually, 8,000 kids wrote letters to the postal service. They said, 'Okay, we give up. We'll issue the stamp.' They did, indeed, start commissioning a stamp to be designed and got a wonderful artist to come up with one."
The U.S. Postal Service commissioned 60-year Mohamed Zakariah of Fairfax County, Virginia. The calligrapher said he initially came up with two designs but rejected the first one. Mr. Zakariah said, "It had words that had a spiritual content, like kareem, which in the Islamic religion is one of the names of God. We [Muslims] don't like the fact that something like that would be discarded and thrown in the trash. We decided to use a word [so] that it doesn't matter if somebody throws it in the trash."
Mr. Zachariah says work on the design took many months and included making the ink and "coating the paper with a special preparation of egg whites mixed with alum that comes from Syria."
And what if the Eid Mubarak stamp doesn't sell well because some Americans continue to harbor anger towards Muslims? "To me," Mohamed Zechariah said, "that's the least of it. The stamp is there if anyone wants to take it. The response of the American people to every Muslim I know has been magnanimous beyond belief. Jewish friends, Christian friends, non-religious friends have been calling almost on a daily basis, almost an hourly basis. 'How are you doing? Are you keeping your chin up?' It's been a revelation for a lot of people. This is a great country."
U.S. Postal officials say they never considered recalling the stamp after the September 11 attacks. Azeezaly Jaffer with the postal service says the United States government is making a statement to "Muslims in America and around the world" that Muslims are a significant part of this nation. And, he adds, we stand united here.