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 98 - September 2017

Sufi Service Committee (Boston)

Addressing the most pressing needs of our community

Brianna and Rolando enjoying the Sunday brunch




August was a productive month for our unflappable clothing service, with multiple deliveries of donated and sorted clothing to such organizations as Cradles to Crayons and Dress for Success. Our intrepid drivers continued to reliably deliver donated food to Rosie's Place, Margaret Fuller House, Project SOUP, St. Francis House and East End House. This month's volunteers included Bill, Emraan, Toto, Paula, Michael P., Zaid, Stephen, Jon, David, Brianna, Rolando, Sister Adriana Maria Yepes Tablares and Lisa Camacho.


We continue our search for people and services that can make the best use of our resources. On The Rise was glad to get a delivery of larger-size women's shorts, pants and tops. As with so many agencies that help the underserved, they have only a small space for their clothing room, and are very happy to have us provide clothing on a periodic basis.

Interfaith Social Services in Quincy has been helping South Shore families and individuals since 1947. One source of their funding is their own excellent Bureau Drawer thrift shop. It is completely volunteer run; 100% of the proceeds from the shop go to support the agency's food, mental health and emergency assistance programs. The Bureau Drawer sells donated high end items, displayed in a very attractive and professional way. We are so happy to support them by channeling our donated evening gowns, tuxedos and other fancy clothes to The Bureau Drawer. Additionally, Interfaith Social Services runs a Career Closet, providing men with job interview counseling and clothing. We are glad to support this effort as well by sending men's dress pants, blazers, suits and shirts to their Career Closet.

Dress For Success continues to receive our donated women's interview clothing whenever we have a match with the ever-changing list on their web site. This month we provided them with scarves, belts, handbags, dresses, shoes and pants in larger sizes.

Because of our generous donors this past month we were able to provide Cradles to Crayons with a new baby monitor and a jump seat still in its original box. That was very special!


On August 6 we carpooled to Somerville to serve a monthly meal at a group home. On the remaining Sundays, volunteers gathered at Noor Oriental Rugs to sort and bag/box donations.


On August 13, Sister Adriana Maria Yepes Tabares of Colombia made a historic visit to the Sufi Service Committee. She has been spending the last 25 years helping in an orphanage in the Philippines. We also made a wish list online for supporters to conveniently donate items of need.


On August 27 Lisa delivered clothes to Malynda of Dress 4 Success. Mo surprised them by giving them some refreshing watermelon!


Quote from Jamie, a volunteer:


"The news (in this newsletter) does not stand still!"



Veggie muffins



Service at Somerville property



Service at Somerville property



Volunteer Reflection - Emraan Khan


Each Sunday when I can, I join the Sufi Service Committee in volunteering time with my fellow community members. We are a consortium of teachers, nannies, administrators, consultants, store keepers, and retirees, joined together by our desire to share in our blessings, provide each other our company, and enjoy a delicious meal. I find the experience tremendously rewarding and joyful, looking forward to each Sunday I can serve. I've sought to reflect on the reasons why and have concluded there are three:


  • We focus on our behaviors, not our achievements


Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote, "There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes."


Boston has some of the most impactful philanthropic institutions in the world. They serve humanity in ways that include education, healthcare, poverty, and social justice. Their collective reach includes millions, if not billions, around the world. I'm proud to live in such a city, and be surrounded with such generosity.


But despite its small size, the Sufi Service Committee has taught me that charity is a personal act, and that the personal benefit of giving is not measurable in scale. Each Sunday when we congregate to bag clothes or serve food, we don't consider ways to optimize the outcome. The service itself is the outcome. And whether we collect one bag of clothes or fifteen, serve a hot meal to five individuals or fifty, we feel the same sense of love and accomplishment.


In viewing charity this way, The Sufi Service Committee teaches me to be humble in myself. I experience personal enrichment through the act of folding one pair of pants and placing it into a bag. I grow spiritually by brewing one cup of coffee for one man to drink with his one lunch. And in doing so, I've become connected to the spirit of the verse of the Holy Quran, which states that the measure of charity is unrelated to its scale:


"And whoever saves one [life] - it is as if he had saved mankind entirely." - Surah Al-Ma'idah [5:32]


  • We change ourselves as much as those we seek to serve


A second behavior of the Sufi Service Committee is the recognition of who we are changing through charity. Charity allows me to recognize that I am not so different than the man I serve. We are both made of nerves and sinew, we both have fears and anxieties, and most important we are both imperfect. I have been blessed with more opportunities than he, and that is why I am the one serving the plate of food, instead of receiving it. As someone once said, "today you, tomorrow me."


When I join the Committee each Sunday, I feel as enriched as eating a hot meal or receiving a clean set of clothes. I believe that service to others is a universal human need that need be addressed as much as clothing or shelter. We connect with each other, serve each other, and understand each other - and in doing so, understand and transform ourselves.


  • We are patient with each other


Each member of the Committee contributes what we he or she can. Whether it be driving, music, cooking, bagging or lifting, we are each equally valuable and contribute in our own way. There is no leader and no follower. Each one is a helper to each other. Where one offers a ride to another, that member then helps a third assort clothes, who after completing their work helps a forth serve food, and so forth. We each would not be able to serve those in need without first serving each other. And to do so requires patients and kindness.


Similarly, though we all come from varying backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and professions, at the Sufi Service Committee we are just human beings. That means recognizing that what we do is not perfect, and that imperfection is good. It reinforces the points above and reminds us that though work always remains, we can remain focused on the joy in what is transpiring before us. And that means mistakenly placing a donated pair of pants in the wrong pile, overbrewing a cup of coffee, or writing a reflective essay without a well thought-out ending.


Emraan Khan is a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group where he is a member of the general strategy practice. He has over nine years of experience as a business consultant and applied economist, specializing in business strategy across a variety of sectors including healthcare, non-profits, and consumer goods.



Service at Somerville property - arugula and tomato salad



A troupe of shrimp




Sister Adriana Maria Yepes Tabares



Sister Adriana Maria Yepes Tabares of Colombia making a historic visit to SCC









Dress for Success - Lisa and Malynda



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


Administrative Help Wanted




Mo Nooraee

Sufi Service Committee (Boston)

84 Pembroke Street, Boston, MA 02118

(617) 938-3680