Thursday, October 18, 2001

Muslim stamp tangled in politics

Symbol of inclusion a source of division

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Aminah Assilmi cried when United States postal workers on Sept. 1 unfurled a banner-sized replica of the first Muslim stamp.

[photo] Aminah Assilmi of Taylor Mill led a campaign to have the U.S. Postal Service create a stamp for the Muslim holidays of Eid.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
        To the Taylor Mill woman, the day was more than the culmination of a five-year push for the Postal Service to issue a Muslim postage stamp. It was a moment that marked a new level of acceptance for the estimated 6 million Muslims in America. The Islamic feast days of Eid would be on the corner of letters just as Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa stamps are.

        “As a first-grade student wrote, "Now, I really feel like an American,'” says Ms. Assilmi. “It's a matter of feeling included.”

Acceptance elusive

        But since the terrorist attacks, the stamp has become a reminder for some Muslims that full acceptance remains elusive.

        A West Coast talk show host “made the observation that Eid was die spelled backward and that what we were really saying was, "Die America,'” Ms. Assilmi says. “It's very saddening.”

        Some local postal workers have given her a hard time about the 34-cent stamp, Ms. Assilmi says, and she's had difficulty finding it at some post offices.

        The Forest Park post office was out of the Eid stamps this week, and a worker said there were no plans to order more. At the Mason location, the Eid stamps were on display. A postal worker said they were selling slowly, like some other specialty stamps, including sets featuring composer Leonard Bernstein.

        Bonni Manies, Cincinnati district spokeswoman for the Postal Service, says the Eid stamp is to be displayed and sold just like any special issue stamp. Although a couple of offices have called to ask whether to pull it off the shelves, Ms. Manies says the consumer affairs office has not received any complaints.

   Christmas: 4-cent stamp issued in 1962; new stamps issued most years since.
   Hanukkah: 32-cent stamp issued in 1996; will be re-issued Sunday.
    Kwanzaa: 32-cent stamp issued in 1997; will be re-issued Sunday.
    Eid: 34-cent stamp issued Sept. 1, 2001.
   Cinco de Mayo: 32-cent stamp issued in 1998.
   Thanksgiving: 34-cent stamp issued for the first time Friday.
        Nationally, the agency has heard some negative comments about the stamp, says Roy Betts, manager of special communications at the U.S. Postal Service in Washington, D.C. But, he says, most feedback has been positive.

        A Muslim-themed stamp was chosen to reflect the religious diversity in America, Mr. Betts says. The Postal Service issues 35 to 40 new stamps a year chosen from among 50,000 recommendations and drawings submitted annually.

75 million printed

        The agency printed 75 million Eid stamps, which will be sold for about a year. The Postal Service then will review the success of the Eid stamp before determining whether to issue another one, says spokeswoman Cathy Yarosky.

        Ms. Assilmi launched a campaign for the stamp in 1996, when a friend's son saw a Hanukkah stamp and asked what the Muslim one looked like.

        Ms. Assilmi encouraged the boy and his friends to write letters that she would forward to the Postmaster General. Ms. Assilmi contacted members of a national Muslim women's group and asked them to have their children also write. Within a week, she had 200 letters. By four months, there were 4,000 drawings with “Happy Eid America” and crayon-colored rainbows.

        In June 1997, Ms. Assilmi was told the Postal Service would issue a Muslim stamp but didn't have a date. She decided to continue the campaign and put together a mile-long banner for children across the country to draw on and write letters. The next year was a postcard drive.

        “Once it got started, I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to teach children they can make a difference,” says Ms. Assilmi.

        It's unfortunate the Eid stamp has gotten tangled in politics, says Karen Dabdoub, administrator of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati in West Chester.

        When it was released last month “Everybody was so happy and proud and thrilled. Finally there was a stamp to honor one of our holidays.”

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