Aziz’s awaking moment occurred in the early 1990s during the genocide in the former Yugoslavia, when he helped to arrange housing for Bosnian Muslims who had sought refuge in the United States.
“It was important for me to apply our ethics by acting,” he said. During this experience, he was surprised at how much difference an individual can make in peoples’ lives.
The second call to action for him was during the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. Since then, he has taken the initiative to reach out to other organizations and become more involved in dialogue and encouraging pluralism in society.
Aziz Nathoo speaking at a national meeting of Amnesty International on human rights and legal rights for refugees who often do not have adequate legal documents.
Originally from Tanzania, Aziz Nathoo came to the United States in 1986 to pursue his undergraduate studies, obtaining a degree in Islamic Studies and Business, and later an MBA at Boston College. Growing up in a family steeped in Jamati service and the pursuit of knowledge, he was taught that "true faith rests on the twin pillars of Ishq (love) and Ilm (knowledge).”
Aziz works with refugees in different capacities, assisting them with housing, employment, and other needs, sometimes accommodating them in his own home.
He also founded Narenj Tree Foundation, which collects, ships, and distributes donations and supplies such as clothing, shoes, medicine, hygiene, and weather-related supplies, to resettling refugees, and ships the rest to Syria and Turkey. He also joined Amnesty International to advocate for authorities to lend assistance, press for human rights, and resist those who cause suffering.
Aziz works with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and mosques, churches, and temples which provide immediate assistance to vulnerable families. He has also spoken at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, which led to multiple invitations at various houses of worship, where he spoke about his faith and the misrepresentation of Islam in the US.
“I have never shied away from sharing,” said Aziz, who attends Philadelphia Jamatkhana in Pennsylvania. He has spoken at conferences and fondly recalls his talk on civil society at the United Nations, where he was part of a committee that requested the government and international bodies to extend their funding for refugees.
Aziz said that his involvement with others is to "converse, not convert.” He makes it clear that he is "simply sharing his limited knowledge where ignorance reigns.” He often uses humor to puncture hostility, saying "it breaks down resistance and opens lanes of dialogue.”
Aziz was recently appointed to the Mayor of Philadelphia’s Commission on Faith-based and Interfaith Affairs, where he will put his experience to good use for the community.