Eid al fitr stamp.
(photo credit: )
One of the questions I always get, especially when Ramadan comes up, is: "What secret words does the design convey on the Eid stamp put out by the US Post Office?" It's not secret at all, actually. The stamp was first released in early 2001 at 34 cents. It has to do with the Islamic religion and Muslims.
As everyone knows, there are a lot of stereotypes and misperceptions about Muslims, especially here in the US where the concept of blaming an entire religion for the actions of a handful of people doesn't apply to Christians or Jews but is the mantra for those who are Muslim.
The American public is getting better - more educated, actually - but I still get comments like, "Hey Ray, we're doing a story this week and we need you to talk about your Muslim faith." Well, I'm not Muslim. I'm a Christian Arab, even if many Americans have forgotten that Christianity began in the Middle East and the first Christians were Arabs, Jews and pagans who converted to a new religion at the time.
BUT WHAT is the "Eid stamp" and why is everyone so worried? Well, it features calligraphy on its blue front. The words mean "Eid mubarak," an Arabic expression that means "happy holiday" or "may your holiday be blessed." Eid means "holiday" or "festival." Even though I am Christian, and not Muslim, I was proud as an American-Arab to see a postage stamp that reflected something that originated in the Middle East.
The "Eid" or holiday refers to the annual Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which occurs in the ninth lunar cycle each year - and because it is based on a lunar calendar, the start and end dates depend on the first light and last light of the moon.
Ramadan ended Sunday and there was an Eid al-Fitr, which refers to the breaking of the period of the month-long fast. And two months later there will be the Eid al-Adha which refers to one of the most important religious holidays in Islam.
Coincidentally, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, was Friday. I know this because unlike many Americans, I am very lucky. I am Christian and my best friends are also Jewish and Muslim, and my wife is Jewish, too - something that causes some throats to choke among some Muslims, Arabs and even Jews.
WHEN I go to the post office this week, I'll see on display the Islamic Eid stamp, the Jewish stamp issued in 2004 honoring Hanukka, and the many stamps from the US Post Office that honor Christmas, which is and isn't a religious holiday depending on who you are arguing with from the Christian faith and the focus of the political debate.
Technically, Christmas is both a religious and non-religious holiday. The religious part has to do with the birth of Jesus, who Christians recognize as the son of God. And, it is a secular holiday recognized by Christmas trees, gifts and parties.
A friend of mine in Los Angeles, newspaper publisher Joseph Haiek, has been engaged in a campaign to get the US Post Office to issue a stamp honoring the great American writer and poet Khalil Gibran.
But, while the Post Office has issued many stamps honoring Jewish Americans, Christian Americans, all minorities (except Arabs), animals, insects, plants, actors and events in our history, it has come under so much protest from Americans angry about the Eid stamp, they're hesitant to start another controversy by recognizing an Arab. Especially since they probably know what I know - that most Americans are still uneducated about facts and assume that all Arabs are Muslims.
But public anger is always a great motivator to do right.
I remember being pushed into a new career of stand-up comedy in January 2002 after being told by an elderly Christian woman, "I can't believe you abandoned your Christian faith to become an Arab." Of course, I can't believe so many comedy clubs are so afraid of an Arab comedian they won't book me, or that only very few Israeli and Jewish comedians - and even fewer Arabs - will perform with me because I am a Palestinian, too.
But the crusade for education continues, folks. Even though I am not Muslim, I'll say it first and for you. "Eid mubarak, my brotha!" And even though I am not Jewish, I'll also say, "L'shana tova tikatevu," which is Hebrew and means, "May you be inscribed [in the Book of Life] for a good year." And those sound like nice things for a good Christian boy like me to say.
The writer is a columnist, comedian and Chicago radio talk show host.