11/12/01 EID Stamp Backlash Worries Muslims
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Stamp Backlash Worries Muslims
Tribute to Islamic Holidays Scorned by Collectors' Newsletter, Conservative Group

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Mohamed Zakariya, left, a caligrapher who designed the Eid postage stamp, looks at a handwritten copy of the Koran with student Deniz Oktem. (Juana Arias - The Washington Post)

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By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 24, 2001; Page B01

Less than three months ago, American Muslims celebrated the debut of a U.S. Postal Service stamp commemorating two Islamic holidays as the ultimate sign of acceptance in the United States. Now they're working to ensure that it doesn't become a symbol of rejection.

The Postal Service issued the Eid stamp Sept. 1 as part of its holiday series, capping a five-year lobbying campaign by Muslims, including 10,000 schoolchildren from across the country who sent postcards and submitted their designs.

"I feel like now I'm an American," one of those children told Aminah Assilmi, director of the International Union of Muslim Women, when the stamp was introduced at the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America. Assilmi helped organize the children's letter-writing campaign to the postmaster general and the Postal Service's Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee.

But then Muslim militants attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, fueling anti-Muslim sentiment that some believe has affected the distribution and promotion of the Eid stamp.

Designed by calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya, of Arlington, the stamp displays the Arabic words Eid Mubarak, or "Blessed Feast," with the gold Arabic letters written in Turkish-style calligraphy on a royal blue background. The words "Eid Greetings" also appear on the stamp.

Eid Mubarak, a phrase as common among Muslims as "Merry Christmas" is among Christians, refers to the two major feasts of the Muslim calendar, eid al-fitr and eid al-adha. The first feast celebrates the end of fasting during the month of Ramadan, which this year started last Saturday and ends at sundown Dec. 15. The second feast marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and falls on Feb. 23 in 2002.

Mekeel's and Stamps Magazine, a weekly philatelic newsletter, ran editorials this month and last month against using the Eid stamp, citing the terrorist attacks. The newsletter urged Muslims and others to instead support the United We Stand stamp, which depicts a U.S. flag. Last weekend, the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative policy group, asked Republican congressional leaders to retract the stamp.

"I am writing to suggest that the current stamps be withdrawn, to be overprinted with the image of the Twin Towers and then reissued," foundation President Paul M. Weyrich wrote in letters to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) and Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

"I have no doubt a majority of Americans would find the altered stamps a more appropriate commemoration of Islam than the current celebratory version," he said.

But anyone who looks at the Arabic script on the Eid stamp and equates that with the terrorist attacks is "really playing into the hands of the terrorists," said Aly R. Abuzaakouk, executive director of the Washington-based American Muslim Council.

"Who dares to associate negativity with something that celebrates a religious festival?" he said. "The Eid has nothing to do with the terrorists, and we thank God that all of those . . . suspected to have done this have nothing to do with our community. They were not the known guys of our community. We have nothing to do with that."

Abuzaakouk's organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the International Union of Muslim Women have had reports from members that some post offices aren't carrying the Eid stamp. They have urged people to forward those complaints to the Postal Service and to order the stamp online or through a toll-free number.

Postal officials said there has been no attempt to cut back on the stamp's distribution. "As far as we're concerned, it's going to stay on sale and should be in stock at post offices around the country," said Dave Failor, manager of community relations for the Postal Service.

Another complaint from Muslim activists -- that the Postal Service omitted the Eid stamp from its holiday stamp promotional posters -- prompted an apology from the agency last week. The poster showed stamps commemorating Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukah.

"The Postal Service deeply regrets the oversight and is reprinting the holiday posters depicting the Eid stamp image," Postal Service officials said in a statement.

Seventy-five million Eid stamps were issued Sept. 1 -- fewer than the 90 million Amish quilt stamps issued in August but more than the 32 million James Madison stamps issued in October. Postal Service spokeswoman Cathy Yarosky characterized the Eid stamp printing as "an average number we would anticipate for a year's sale."

Postal officials said it is too early to know how well the Eid stamp is selling. But Robert E. Lamb, executive director of the American Philatelic Society, said anecdotal evidence shows his members are not asking for the stamp much or using it heavily on their correspondence, "and our members use all the stamps."

Sales figures will determine whether the Eid stamp is reissued next year. And Assilmi, who spearheaded the stamp campaign, said she is determined to see that happen. "A year ago would have made all the difference in the world. September 11 certainly set us back," she said.

"But I tell you what: The children have already determined that if we don't make the sales because of the post office's failure to display it or people's fears, they'll just start over," Assilmi said. "They're not going to give up."

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