Hey Bawlmereans, have you heard of the "Free Ice Cream" campaign? No? Well, it's not surprising because the media do not have wall to wall coverage when Muslims do something positive for the community. However, they make the headlines when they are part of "terrorist" activities. Americans need to know with certainty that all Muslims are not terrorists and that Islam is not a religion of violence no matter how the Islamophobes try to paint the picture.
In a Pew research study published in 2014, Americans were asked to rate their views of different religious groups based on a "feeling thermometer" from 0 to 100 where 0 reflects the coldest or the most negative feeling, while 100 would be the most positive. Guess where the Muslims were on this "feeling thermometer." You guessed it right. Muslims received an average rating of 41 — a full point below atheists. Forty-one percent of Americans had negative feelings toward Muslims, ranking them at 33 or below. Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians were ranked the highest, at 63, 62 and 61 respectively.
After the tragic death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray, who sustained severe neck and spine injuries while in police custody, the city erupted in violent protests against police brutality. While the news of the riots went international, barely three miles away, a group of Muslims was brainstorming ideas of how to help this torn city — and maybe change the perception of Muslims in the process. The men belonged to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's Baltimore chapter. They heard that a senior citizen shelter, located not far from a burned down CVS pharmacy, was in need of food. So the members decided to provide free hot meals to the shelter for 60 seniors on a daily basis for a week. The food was cooked, delivered and paid for by the community members.
But the group wanted to do more, so members sat down again to think about what could be done. "People in the city just need love," said a member who worked in Baltimore over 20 years. "We must protect these little flowers of heaven from the anger they are seeing," another member said, "Let's give them something to smile about."
And thus came forth the exciting idea of #FreeIceCream for 18 parks (and adjacent schools) in 18 days.
"While we may not be able to fix all the problems in our city, as people of faith, we must do our part and spread some love. That's what it's all about," said Faheem Younus, Baltimore president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.
Mansoor Shams, a former U.S. marine leading the #LoveForAll via #FreeIceCream project, and his core team have been traveling to city parks and schools every day to bring smiles to children by giving them free ice cream and will continue to do so through May 28. Some 200 ice cream treats are being provided each day. Mr. Shams explained that people may think that there is an ulterior motive or an agenda behind this campaign, but the only agenda is to spread #LoveForAll. "We're not just giving away a free ice cream. We are also spreading love, making friends, healing wounds," he said. "We are not giving out pamphlets; we just want to give the children hugs and tell them, 'we love you.'" Through Twitter Mr. Younus has been reaching out to various media outlets. Tweets were also sent out to Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Councilman Nick Mosby. Though the mayor hasn't come by to any of the locations, Councilman Mosby and his wife, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, stopped by Roosevelt Park with their two daughters on Sunday.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's efforts to spread #LoveForAll through #FreeIceCream may not get the kind of media coverage as "Haagen Dazs gives away free ice cream" did, but the goal that the community set out to achieve has already been fulfilled. For a few moments, city children could forget about the worries of the world and happily get brain freezes instead. The parents could get their minds off of the events of the past month and carry a little flame of hope that their city will heal from the pain. What more could be delightful than seeing those smiles on the little ones' faces and the twinkle in their eyes?
Shahina Bashir is a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ice cream giveaways begin about 4 p.m. at each location
5/19: Middle Branch Park
5/20: Chinquapin Run Park
5/21: Cylburn Arboretum
5/22: Gwynns Falls/ Leakin Park
5/23: Fort Armistead Park
5/24: Riverside Park
5/25: Patterson Park
5/26: Canton Waterfront Park
5/27: Clifton Park
5/28: Herring Run Park