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 105 - April 2018

Sufi Service Committee (Boston)

Addressing the most pressing needs of our community




"Whoever comes here should be given food without being asked about their creed and religion."


- Dr. Alireza Nurbakhsh, Master of Nimatullahi Sufi Order and Founder of Sufi Service Committee quoting from another Sufi Master- Kharagani




Dear Friends:


Welcome to this delicious Brunch Update for the month of April! Many volunteers have joined us, and we have eaten some particularly tasty meals as we sorted clothes and donated food for our homeless friends.


Our most popular brunch items were moist, tender chicken sandwiches with cheddar cheese and red onion; delectable tofu and egg sandwiches; and pizzas with onion, cheese, and a whole piece of chicken parmesan on top. We also had a hearty breakfast of Florida toast, which is toast with avocado, butter, egg and onion. Thanks to Alena for this creative creation!


For dessert, we had an Icelandic chocolate swirl cheesecake. It was the perfect blend of sweet, chocolate, and creamy, especially when paired with a side of coffee ice cream. Our volunteers left with happy hearts and bellies!


A popular drink among our volunteers this month was fresh ginger, lemon, and honey in hot water. It was almost like tea, but thicker and sweeter. Of course, nothing was so delicious and well loved as the Sufi Service Committee's world famous Persian water (which is, of course, water served by a Persian)!


Food is such a simple way to express love. When we love someone, we naturally want to nourish them, to keep them safe and happy. Young lovers cook for one another and take each other out for dinner, and mothers and fathers cook for their children. At the Sufi Service Committee, our love encompasses the entire Boston community, so we work to ensure that everyone is nourished, regardless of income, age, race or religion!


The love that goes into the food we prepare at Sufi Service helps to create something magical. When we sit down together for brunch at Noor Oriental Rugs, the tastes are so vivid, and the food is so filling. As we eat together in laughter or conversation or silence, there is a sense of fullness - we don't need anything other than this very moment. We leave each Sunday feeling totally nourished. Our stomachs are full, our hearts are overflowing, and our faces are filled with smiles!


We also want to mention some of the experiences of our volunteers this past month. Our Easter lunch at the Somerville Homeless Coalition was festive, as always! Our friends Raoufa, Ghassan, Christian, Bill, Michael, Jacob and Andy served food to individuals just exiting homelessness. Andy generously brought a honey-ham that we made short work of! Raoufa and Ghassan's contributions were a delectable vanilla-berry cake and pasta with perfectly seasoned meatballs. Bill made his signature scrambled eggs. As Bill and Michael serenaded us with melodic folk-songs, the conversation buzzed; we heard from a resident of the rooming house about her time protesting for civil rights! Elsewhere, Lance (another resident), Christian, Raoufa and her husband talked sports and jobs. We left our friends at the Somerville Homeless Coalition with bars of soap and other toiletries, as well as chicken pot pies and the delicious leftovers from our meal together.


While we were busy at the Somerville Homeless Coalition, Alena, Mo, Jen and Shelisa shared an intimate day together at Noor Oriental Rugs. Their connection was so strong that they each independently brought it up to the writer when asked for material for the Brunch Update!


As always, we wish to thank Lisa Camacho and other volunteers who, with absolute dedication, spend each day working our clothing and food donation services. This month we accepted generous gifts of food from Panera, Iggy's and Whole Foods, and delivered them to shelters and other organizations in need, such as Project SOUP, St. Francis House, Rosie's Place, Heading Home, and the Margaret Fuller House. In terms of clothes, we donated to Dress for Success, Cradles to Crayons and the Career Closet at Interfaith Social Services in Quincy. For more information on our various donations, please see our goods to and fro page.


Thanks also to Brad Collier, the manager of Michael's, for his generous donation of hats and gloves. His gifts have helped to keep our friends warm in these chilly early-spring months.


Thanks, too, to all of our volunteers: Eric, Edward, Jen, Rayjaun and his lovely daughter Leah and his equally-lovely sister Myla, Mitra, Jean, Christian, Emraan, Ebi, Lisa, Bill, Michael, Mo, Terrie, Jessica, Young Jacob, Tayla, Shelisa, Old Jacob, Camila, Alena, Andy, Ghassan, Raoufa and of course, Peter.


Finally, the Sufi Service Committee of Boston is having our 10th anniversary celebration September 21, 2018. We will be using this festive event to raise awareness about the opportunity we have to serve the homeless in our community. Naturally, we will have some delicious dishes, cooked and served with loving charm! As we move towards the event, we have need for volunteers to assist us with all aspects from planning and PR, to cooking and driving. If you are moved to give us the gift of some of your time, please send us an email at


We look forward to seeing you soon!



The Sufi Service Committee of Boston



Speaking of inspiring dedication, we wish to share this quote from Camila, one of our newest volunteers: "I have never in my life felt love like I do when I am with Sufi Service volunteers. I love this work. I was born for this work". Camila's words are matched only by her commitment to service. Each week without fail, she travels all the way from Roxbury to volunteer with us. We are all humbled by her generosity and passion. Thank you Camila!



Emraan and Aleana taking a break



Alena serves smoothies to our volunteers



Brunch includes brussels sprout and cherry tomato pops



Rice and pomegranate seeds


Grapefruit slices with strawberries






Eric poses with a plate of meatless "meatballs"



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





Mo Nooraee

Sufi Service Committee (Boston)

84 Pembroke Street, Boston, MA 02118

(617) 938-3680


The Sufi Service Committee of Boston is a 501(c) charity organization. All donations are tax deductible.