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 101 - December 2017

Sufi Service Committee (Boston)

Addressing the most pressing needs of our community

A full house of volunteers





November was an inspiring month for our indefatigable clothing service, with multiple deliveries of donated and sorted clothing to such organizations as Cradles to Crayons, Dress for Success and the Somerville Homeless Coalition. Our tireless drivers continued to cheerfully deliver donated food to Rosie's Place, Margaret Fuller House, Project SOUP, Heading Home and St. Francis House.


Raoufa Mehdi volunteered to coordinate our monthly brunch in Somerville. We appreciate her initiative.

A donor donated some custom made cups. We distributed them among the residents.


This month's volunteers included:


Aisha and her husband Ahmed, Raoufa and her daughter Mira, Mo and his sister Lisa, Bill and his co-music player Michael, Toto and his amore Paula, Brianna and her boyfriend Rolando, Emraan jon and co-volunteer Zaid, Edwin and his Thanksgiving guest Catherine Gibbes, Fekadu and his daughters Feven and Chloe from, Jacob Balin and his organization Cambridge Health Alliance, an academic health care system providing essential services for all members of the community who need our clothes for their physically / psychiatrically sick and residents of Heading Home, who browsed the winter clothing for items they and their housemates can use.



Aisha Saad and Ahmed Eissa



Fekadu, Feven and Chloe from Boston K12 enjoying breakfast



Mira decided to donate her mom Raoufa



Remarks by Lisa Camacho, SCC Volunteer (delivered at 2nd Annual SSC Clothing Drive)


"I want to give a shout-out to the organizations we work with but that can't attend today. As well as delivering food to the Margaret Fuller House, who address the needs faced by the most vulnerable residents of Cambridge and beyond, we support them in other ways when we can. We received a donation of hundreds of children's books - mostly picture books - in nearly pristine condition over the summer. We delivered them to the MFH in support of their after school programs. The MFH evaluated the donation at over $200.00. That's a heck of a lot of picture books and a very generous donation from someone.


"We partner now with On The Rise, who create a community where women have the relationships, safety and resources they need to move out of homelessness, on a regular basis. Delphene and Keyton handle the clothing donations there. The three of us are in periodic contact on the needs they have for clothing and household items. So far OTR has been able to use women's tops, pants and maternity wear. Just this week they called for sneakers; we sent over 14 pair in good-to-excellent condition.


"Cradles To Crayons, whose three step model provides kids with the essentials they need, free of charge, is the main recipient of our donated infant and children clothing and baby gear. Over the summer we had continuous donations of infant clothing in perfect condition - no stains, tears or broken toys. How parents in the greater Boston area can keep their babies' clothing so clean amazes me. Do the infants in this area not drool? We were even given a brand-new baby monitor and jump seat, each in its original box. That was most generous! Cradles To Crayons was very happy to get them.


"I need not say much about Dress For Success, who empower 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, since Janile and Malynda have covered them. We're just so glad they could make it in person today.


"Interfaith Social Services in Quincy, which is dedicated to improving life for South Shore families and individuals in need, has been helping the under-served since 1947. We found them when looking for an agency that can use men's interview clothing. The organization runs a Career Closet that, free-of-charge, supplies men with job counseling and appropriate attire for going to a job interview. We are so happy to have found them. The Sufi Service Committee likes to keep their charitable work as close to home as possible, but it turns out ISS pulls in clients from Cambridge, Jamaica Plain, Boston and other places because this particular service is so hard to find.


"For a time we worked with Heading Home in Central Square, which provides emergency, transitional and permanent housing, and support services, to low-income homeless and formerly homeless families and individuals in the communities of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Malden, Everett, Quincy, Chelsea and Revere, to stock the clothing section of their Drop-in Center. Sadly they had to close the Center due to lack of funds. It was quite a loss, as women from nine or so different agencies could drop in and get the clothes they needed. We hope that at some point the Drop-In Center can re-open. If so, we will be there to assist."


Strawberry cheesecake



"Housing should be a source of stability, not insecurity. We cannot accept the fact that 11 million families pay more than half of their income just on rent."


- MakeRoomUSA, a national nonprofit advocating for solutions to end housing insecurity

"[This service was] designed with us in mind!"


- a guest

"Unconditional love means to give favors even though no favor goes unpunished!"


"You are doing amazing work, and clearly have a great time together. The person doing your newsletter, for example, is clearly educated and has an understanding of grammar rules; this gives the impression of a sophisticated operation in Boston, which is delightful to see."

- Pantea Jafari




Full of mettle empty of prejudice,
Acting with love seeking no benefits,
Of opinions a great deficit,
Short on excuses, long on benevolence
Roots firm, supple in temperament."

- SSC Volunteer


The sorting



Vegetarian sausage pizza for brunch







Volunteers biting in unison



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