Sufi Service Committee of Boston

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Every Sunday from 10 am to 1:30 pm we get together at Noor Oriental Rugs, Inc. 769 Concord Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 to sort, organize clothes for homeless children, women and men. Please join us to share your love with them while enjoying a tasty colorful brunch over friendly conversation with other passionate volunteers.

Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh, Master of Nimatullahi Sufi Order & Founder of Sufi Service Committee: Caring for Others: Sufism and Altruism

Altruism has been a central aspect of Persian Sufism since it was developed by such figures as Ibrahim Adham (d. 782), Shaqiq Balkhi (d. 810), Bayazid (d. 874), Abul-Hasan Kharaqani (d. 1033) and Abu Said Abel Khayr (d. 1049) in the region of Khorasan, now the north-eastern part of Iran. Altruism, as developed by these early Khorasanian Sufis and practiced by Persian Sufis for centuries down to the present day, advocates that Sufis - indeed all human beings - should serve God by remaining in society and helping and serving others. It stands in stark contrast with the Sufi tradition that was developed in Baghdad by Junaid (d. 910) and his followers, which advocated the practice of renunciation and withdrawal from society as the central tenet of Sufism...

Recent studies in neuroscience suggest that there is a neurological basis for altruism, that this trait is inherent in us. These experiments show that when we generously place the interests of others before our own, a primitive part of our brain - usually stimulated in response to food and sex - becomes activated, suggesting that altruism is not a superior moral faculty but rather something hard-wired in our brain, that when stimulated makes us feel good (see note 1). In other words, it is natural for us to behave altruistically; it is not instilled in us through religion or moral teachings. It comes to us as easily as eating food.

Altruistic behavior is rooted in empathy, in the ability to put oneself in another's position and identify with his or her state or situation. Again, recent studies in neuroscience have shown that observing another person's emotional state activates parts of the brain that are involved in processing the same state in oneself (see note 2). Thus, when we are confronted with the pain of another person, we tend to feel pain ourselves. Research has also shown that in people suffering from certain types of psychopathology the components of neural circuits involved in empathy are impaired, causing them not to care about other people and their feelings...

If we are to survive as a species on this planet, we need to embrace views or belief systems that are inclusive of others, that emphasize the essential similarities among people rather than the differences, which we know with a moment's reflection to be superficial and insignificant in comparison. Our views of the world should reinforce our basic instincts of altruism and empathy. Take, for example, the notion of sin that is an element of many religions. Once one views a person as sinful, one creates a chasm between oneself and that person, thereby blocking the path of empathy. By contrast, consider the concept of compassion, which is an integral part of Buddhist practice. Here we are encouraged to direct our compassion equally towards all beings, without distinction, which is in complete agreement with our natural instincts of empathy and altruism.

Sufism also is known for its inclusive nature. All living creatures are essentially manifestations of one being, one reality, and therefore the entire cosmos is in essence one and the same thing - a reflection of the divine. One who experiences the unity of being will embrace all of humanity and all living things with the utmost feelings of empathy. It is in the spirit of such altruism that Kharaqani placed a sign at the entrance of his khaniqah with the following message: "Whoever comes here should be given food without being asked about their creed and religion."

The altruism practiced by the early Khorasanian Sufis went beyond the practice of altruism as I have described here. In fact it was defined in terms of caring for the welfare of others before and prior to one's own welfare and comfort, without any expectation of reward.

Attar, one of the greatest Sufi poets (d. 1221), relates the following story about Ibrahim Adham. One day three people were performing their devotional practices in a ruined mosque. After they went to sleep, Ibrahim stood by the door of the mosque until morning. When he was asked later to explain his action, he replied that the weather was very cold and a harsh wind was blowing. Since there was no door to the mosque, he stood in the threshold to make it possible for the people inside to sleep.

Some Sufis have gone so far as to say that one's altruism is the most important disposition in reaching God. Kharaqani relates the following story to his disciples: There were two brothers, one who devoted himself completely to God and the other who dedicated himself to their mother. After a while the brother who devoted himself to God had a vision in which God tells him that his brother has reached salvation through serving their mother. He was puzzled and asked God for an explanation. "Because," God replied, "He served the needy and you served the One who has no need."...

There are, of course, many methods to overcome such negative states, ranging from psychiatric drugs and psychotherapy to the practice of meditation. In the Sufi tradition, however, the main remedy to cure oneself of such negative states is to actively engage in altruistic actions even when one is not inclined to do so. This enforces our natural instincts. Persistent altruism towards one's spiritual guide and other people, regardless of how one feels or what one wants for oneself, will help the spiritual traveller to rid himself or herself of negative states. This is also borne out by recent psychological studies that indicate there is strong correlation between altruism and the general well-being of an individual. People who engage in helping others suffer significantly less depression and anxiety than those who do not. Clearly altruism plays a key factor in our psychological health.

The early Sufis of Khorasan discovered something fundamental about spirituality as well as the biology of our humanity: that the path of enlightenment converges with our basic instinct of empathy and altruism. Their discovery was as significant then as it is relevant now. With the world population increasing at an alarming rate (by the year 2050 it is estimated the world population will be nine and a half billion), and with limited resources in many poor countries, it seems inevitable that conflicts will increase throughout the world. Though we may never be able to eliminate conflict between people, we can certainly contribute to its decline by following the path of the Sufis from Khorasan.

Though we believe that our work with local charities has been successful up to this point, we always need more help. There are two main ways for you to get involved. If you'd like to serve brunch with us, we'd love to see you on any given Sunday afternoon. First time volunteers need to submit their application form first for an informal interview. Advance notice is also helpful; you can reach us at If you would like to make a donation, you can mail a check to SSC and include the word "charity" in the space for a memo (our mailing address is 84 Pembroke St., Boston MA 02118), or you can send us money via PayPal (once again, our e-mail address is

We always enjoy sharing our work with new volunteers! Please consider joining us when we serve brunch at a shelter. Members of the community we serve are also occasionally hospitalized. When they are, company proves even more important, so making hospital visits is also a valuable service; please don't underestimate how much you can help just by saying hello to someone in need of companionship.

There are also ways to help that involve less direct contact with those we serve. These include helping us recover food to donate, helping with the project's administrative work, sorting and delivering donated clothing, and, of course, donating food or money.

We welcome volunteers of all ages, cultures and religions to join us in this important effort.

Become a Volunteer

Brunch Update


Issue 96 - July 2017

Sufi Service Committee (Boston)

Addressing the most pressing needs of our community


Some colorful volunteers



"[T]here is strong correlation between altruism and the general well-being of an individual. People who engage in helping others suffer significantly less depression and anxiety than those who do not..."


-Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh, Master of Nimatullahi Sufi Order and Founder of Sufi Service Committee




June was a busy month for our clothing service, with multiple deliveries of donated and sorted clothing to such organizations as Cradles for Crayons and Dress for Success. 


Cradles to Crayons provides children from birth through age 12, living in homeless or low-income situations, with the essential items they need to thrive - at home, at school and at play.


Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.


On June 11th and 18th (Father's Day!) volunteers gathered at Noor Oriental Rugs to sort and bag/box donations.  While occasionally we come across some rather unusual donations, it's good to keep in mind that every piece of clothing represents a small act of kindness on the part of some anonymous donor.


Volunteers were treated to delicious brunches that included:


Beef chili, grilled potatoes, bell peppers, egg and cheddar cheese sandwich, pancake, lettuce wrap with hummus and garden raised  tomatoes, and Persian water (water served by a Persian)  served with charm. (Note that in spite  of embargo on Iran and travel ban on Iranians, Persian water is flowing smoothly and intrepidly...)


This month's dedicated volunteers included Zaid, Bill, Michael P., Donna, Chris, Elizabeth, Victoria, Stephan, Aiden, David, Jon, Stephen and Mo.

Our intrepid drivers continued to steadfastly deliver donated food to Rosie's Place, Margaret Fuller House, Project SOUP, St. Francis House and East End House.  This month we welcomed Iggy's Bakery to our list of generous donors.


On June 4, we served our monthly delicious home-cooked meal of chicken and corn at a low-income group residence in Somerville.  Michael P. and Bill provided some musical selections as the summer sun streamed through the windows, and we also celebrated a volunteer's birthday with cake.

Some comments from our cherished friends:


"It sounds like a lovely way to spend a Sunday. The volunteers  seem like such a wonderful human in temperament and also in their  mission.  I'm in awe of the inspiration and beauty this service reflects. Each time I attend an event, I am further motivated to share the passion,  values, and creative vision with my boyfriend. Your last newsletter was again exceptional, very inspiring. Each reflection told - whether though narrative, poetry especially the monthly quotation - honors the transformations that occur at the intersection between spirituality and economic balance!" - Lisa Newman of Allston, MA

"Isn't it wonderful to get a delight out of the small things in life, like a few handbags? It reminds me of my years working in overseas schools in Honduras and Bolivia. Not only did the schools not have many supplies for the children; the entire countries didn't have much. When we could get a box of fat crayons for the kindergarteners we acted like someone just gave the school a million dollars! I hope I never lose the delight of the little things." - Lisa Camacho of Cambridge, MA



Joke of the Month


Mushroom walks into a bar. Bartender says, "Hey! You can't drink here." Mushroom says, "Why not? I'm a Fun-gi!"



Cradles to Crayons donations



Emptying the donation box



Watermelon and avocado cups



Volunteer Reflection

It has been lovely getting to work with the Sufi Service Committee these past weeks. It speaks highly of the group in my estimation that all of the food / clothes that we provide are 100% donated. To not be beholden to any corporate or state entities means we can work more closely with the people harmfully affected by those entities.


Past volunteer efforts I have been involved in have had to dedicate a large portion of their work towards raising money. One that always struck me was a group whose mission was ending childhood hunger, but the events they would hold were fancy dinners for wealthy donors, and then they would end up wasting so much food. It felt like while they may have done some good in the end, it was limited or marred by how much time and effort went into sustaining themselves rather than direct service.


To me, the chance to see and speak with and serve vulnerable populations is much more valuable.


It seems that Sufi Service has managed to become a rather large operation and that you do it while keeping your focus on the people we help says a lot about your efficiency and values. I've loved getting to do food service on first Sundays of the month. It has been a relatively small group of people we serve, but that consistent presence I think is wonderful.


The other weeks when we sorted through donations have been a great opportunity to meet and bond with other volunteers. I have been very impressed with the volume of clothing we move through. It feels like we get a lot accomplished with just a few dedicated volunteers each week, though I know you have other volunteers throughout the week.

I'm excited to be a regular participant and see the service grow as we become more efficient.


Jon Singer


We served juicy rotisserie chicken



Happy Birthday Bill!



Aiden brings out the cake



Please Join us for
The Second Anniversary of the
Sufi Service Committee Clothes Drive


As we enjoy the warmer seasons of 2017, we must not forget how the colder seasons affect the less fortunate homeless population in our neighborhood. Our aim is to provide warmer clothes to everyone in need as a new outfit may provide that boost in self-confidence needed by those struggling to improve their lives.

Friday September 22, 2017
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Noor Oriental Rugs, Inc. I 769 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138
Sufi Service Committee I 617-938-3680 I



Cambridge Mayor
Denise Simmons

Cambridge Vice-Mayor
Marc C. McGovern

Executive Director of Somerville Homeless Coalition

Mark Alston-Follansbee







Serving others is happy work



You are welcome to get involved by volunteering, making financial contributions, donating clothes, gift cards and non-perishable food.






Mo Nooraee

Sufi Service Committee (Boston)

84 Pembroke Street, Boston, MA 02118

(617) 938-3680