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.

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Brunch Update


Issue 94 - May 2017

Sufi Service Committee (Boston)

Addressing the most pressing needs of our community




Michael, Stephen, Mo, Lisa, Rana, Emraan and Gaea volunteered hand-in-hand



Quote of the Month


Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh, Master of Nimatullahi Sufi Order & Founder of Sufi Service Committee, Sufi, Issue 92, page 7:


"[O]ur appetite for consumption and possession can never be satisfied... The Sufi's answer is that contentment is possible through unconditional love and kindness towards others."





After providing a chicken dinner at a homeless shelter recently, the Sufi Service Committee received an unsolicited email from Neil, a shelter resident who wrote that the dinner was delicious and was well received by the people living in the house. He also praised those who provided the food: "All the people in the Sufi group were gracious and engaging with the tenants. I got a lot of good feedback from the house." He finished by expressing the hope that "this is the start of a positive and growing experience for the residents in the house."


The Sunday brunches consisted of rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, Cole slaw, rolls, omelets in rice, green peas, fruit plate, Italian sausage, potatoes in Arabiata sauce, lettuce, extra large pitted olives, chick peas, golden sweet corn with sea salt, red kidney beans, almond biscotti, ham, lamb, Persian salad, quiche, shrimp, scallion pancakes and French fries. Nick, Robert, Edwin, Ivan, Barrett, Amy, Aiden, Stephen, Zaid, Bill, Michael B., Michael P., Alexandra and her partner, Ryan, Lisa, Rana, Mo, Emraan, Gaea and the 8-month old Honore were among the volunteers.


The volunteers cleaned the kitchen, and served the meal.


The volunteers bid a fond farewell to Amy, Barrett and Honore, who have participated and supported the Sufi Service for years, and are moving out of the state. At the Logan Airport Amy said, "We are leaving part of our hearts here at Sufi Service!"


Volunteers, as always, had much to say about the work of the committee. John P. said, " The situation of the homeless is so alarming that, it's not a choice anymore to help. We have to humanize this economic imbalance!" Jeff observed, concerning the act of providing food and assistance, that "there are forms of intelligence embedded in helping others that aren't straightforwardly translatable into text."




Cleaning and serving a whole meal in a homeless shelter



Serving meal



We will miss Amy and Barrett's consistent service; they sadly are moving out of the area



Finding rest and love in the warmth of a House of Sufism


A Reflection
by Mary E. Johnson

Not too many years ago I heard about the Khaniqah in Boston, a House of Sufism in the heart of Boston's Back Bay ( My source said it was a place for travelers and seekers to find rest. I needed rest and so I went. Mr. Mo Nooree and the lovely tenants and members of the Khaniqah were warm and loving. They showed me a way to service and generosity that I had only just dreamed about. Because of the warm hearts that I met there I started reaching out in the Boston community more and more. If I saw someone in a wheelchair on Tremont Street I no longer just passed them by, but offered to help them get somewhere. I no longer just had my parents over for visits, but gave them hugs and gifts as I hadn't done since I was a child. And I no longer told myself mean and degrading things, but held out hope for myself and loved myself as I never had. These graces took time to develop and it was the constant love from the Khaniqah that supported these important changes in my life and my perspective.

Even after I moved to Western Massachusetts a few years ago the Khaniqah has stayed close to my heart and mind. If I see someone in need, whether a homeless person or my own child, I am deeply inclined towards generosity and kindness and lending a helping hand. Even just writing this piece about the Khaniqah has increased my kindness! You see, as I wrote these last few sentences my 2-year-old daughter dropped her popsicle on the floor. She looked at its purple contents plopped out on the floor and sadly pointed to it. At first I just turned to her and also looked sadly at it, but as I wrote the words "generosity and kindness" I realized she needed some help. So I paused, got her a plate, and gave her the plate for her to put the popsicle pieces on so she could finish them with dignity. It is in small experiences like this that the Khaniqah's love has changed my life.

I am now inspired to use the resources I have (like a 7 bedroom house and lots of energy!) to start my own charity right from my own home! I do not yet know all the details of it, but the seed has been planted in my heart, perhaps from the very first day I walked into the Khaniqah and saw what a place of love and kindness could be. I hope to build a place for seekers and travelers, so that someday a young woman may come through my door, looking for rest.


A staff member presents Appleton Cafe's donation



Assorted and freshly cut green, yellow, and red peppers



Italian sausage with potatoes in an Arabiata sauce



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


Michael, Alexandra and Ryan were kind enough to volunteer



Shrimp salad with olive oil, lemons, green onions, zucchini, squash, lettuce, and coleslaw









We need weekly volunteers to sort the continuous donations



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