Postage stamps in Islamic art
- Yuka Kadoi
Although various forms of courier service had existed in medieval times, a postal system was introduced in North Africa, West and South Asia as early as the mid-19th century in response to European political hegemony. Consequently postage stamps were issued in several Islamic states under the auspices of European sponsors (India in 1854; Ottoman Turkey in 1863; Egypt in 1866, Iran in 1868 and Afghanistan in 1871). It was, however, during the second half of the 20th century that the themes and designs of postage stamps issued in the Islamic world became diversified and worthy of observation as a primary historical, cultural and political document. The stamp began to be viewed as an instrument of propaganda among newly independent countries, and small yet graphically and realistically depicted national flags, symbols of nations, cultural heritage, historical events, as well as the portraits of political leaders and local heroes, were considered as an effective visual tool in conveying a political and cultural message. Propagandistic stamps, for example with the theme of independence from foreign forces in most Islamic countries and martyrdom in post-revolution Iran, continue to be issued as a reminder of national events. The architectural heritage of both pre-modern and modern times was also one of the popular iconographic themes used in Islamic stamps, and this was due not only to the glow of national pride but recently to the promotion of the tourism industry. In addition to the frequent appearance of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, each state made a deliberate choice of iconic buildings for its stamp design so as to reinforce its contribution to Islamic civilization: in Turkey, Ottoman mosques and minarets, for example the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, were frequently used in the postage design; the Ka‛ba in Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, two of the most important Islamic monuments, appeared on the stamps of Saudi Arabia. The use of portraits in stamp design was long discouraged in some countries due to orthodox Islamic beliefs, while countries with rich pictorial traditions, such as Iran, did not hesitate to portray human figures on postal stamps....