We all have heard about Newton’s Apple Incident. Yes, I’m referring to Newton’s observation of a falling apple when he was sitting in a garden. This observation stimulated Newton to ponder upon the question that why apples fall down and why don’t they fall in the upward direction. Newton’s contemplative observation of an otherwise habitualizedphenomenon eventually led him to discover the miraculous gravitational force. I mentioned this legend for a purpose. The purpose is to draw a lesson that can radically change our approach. The lesson is, if an ordinary and everyday experienced process, action or thing is approached from a different angle then the veil of it “being ordinary”; a veil formed by the customary/habitual experience, will be torn apart. Subsequently, the horizons of new realities will get exposed. Basically, Newton did exactly the same thing. He took his observation to the next level. He peeped inside and tore apart the veil of habitualization i.e., the bizarre rationale that fall of apple on ground has been happening for centuries and will continue in the same way. The moment he took the break, he discovered an astonishing phenomenon: the gravity; a force that is pulling everything to the ground. Newton got the answer: apple is pulled by the gravity. His landmark discovery was so impactful that it changed the course of physical science.
Newton’s Apple-Incident makes it profoundly clear that breakaway from habitualization is the starting point of innovation, invention and discovery. Putting it other way around, habitualization is a hindrance in the way of critical thinking, intellectual development and scientific progress. To give a precise definition, I will say that habitualization is the induced tendency of seeing and believing in the reflection: the external form and existence, and ignoring the real: theAgency that creates the effect. Thus, we can say that habitualization is the unconscious belief that accepts existence as an inbuilt capacity of a thing or a process. Such belief doesn’t allow the mind to deconstruct the image of reflection and acknowledge the Agency operating beneath reflection. Since we experience the existence of reflection on daily basis, our senses become habitual to it. Eventually, habitualization, like mirage effect, portrays reflection as the real. This illusionary transformation of the nature of existence i.e., transforming reflection into real is the fundamental cause behind individual’s and nation’s stagnation and fall. Here, I must admit that my concept of habitualization is inspired from Said Nursi, a Turkish intellectual and religious reformist. Nursi has talked, at length, about the pathology of habitualization. In Nursian method, things or processes (for example: universe as a whole and its operating forces) can be approached in two ways: i.e., either from the “mana-i ismi” perspective or the “mana-i harfi” perspective. The former is “habitual” “nominal” or “literal” understanding of the “universe” while as the latter is the level of comprehension that “goes beyond” the “habitual” path.
Borrowing from Prof. Colin Turner, a prominent commentator of Said Nursi, “mana-i ismi” means “self-referential” and “mana-i harfi” means “other-indicative”. I remember, in one of his lectures Prof. Turner said, “When anything is perceived through “mana-i ismi” approach, it’s existence seemingly becomes real and self-subsisting which is a clear deception.” Nevertheless, when the same thing is perceived through “mana-i harfi” approach, it’s existence becomes reflection of the real and, simultaneously, indicative of “Other”; the One who gave it origin, form and function. I will say that Nursi’s “mana-i harfi” approach is the systematic conceptualization of different Quranic terms such as tafakkur(contemplation), tadabbur (cogitation), ta’akkul (reason), tafaqquh (deep understanding), tawassum (meditation) and so on. All these terms operate within the principle of why and how and emphasize learning, reflection, reasoning, contemplation and critique. They form the bases of an inquisitive, reflective and critical mind: a “pattern of mind” that is prerequisite in the intellectualization and scientific development of a society. Although, Nursian conceptualization is more in the religious context, however, it’s application can be extended to all fields of human knowledge and experience. See, for example, had Newton not contemplated and challenged the habitualized thinking, he would not have discovered gravity and formulated his Laws of Gravitation. Extending Nursian method to scientific observation, Newton didn’t accept the fall of apple as “self-referential” rather he observed it as “other-indicative”. Eventually, the quest of “other” led him to discover the gravity.
Nursi’s “mana-i harfi” approach has numerous direct references in Quran. I will mention just one such reference here. While criticising habitualization of Arabs, Quran said: “Then do they not look at the camels- how they are created?” We know that Arabs were very close to camels. This closeness and daily experience with camel had turned Arabs blind to perceive the uniqueness of this creature. They would see camels from the “mana-i ismi” eye: the eye that sees through habitualization, ignoring The Agency that designed camel’s anatomy and physiology perfectly in harmony with the desert conditions. In this verse, the “ordinary” “habitual” or “literal” way of looking at camel is challenged and Arabs are invoked to de-habitualize their approach or apply “mana-i harfi” approach in Nursian context. The process of de-habitualization can produce two possible outcomes. First, the dimension of spiritual emancipation; looking at camel through de-habitualized eye or “mana-i harfi” eye will reintroduce camel as a manifest “Sign (aayah) of God”; the God Who is Perfect in creating. Second, the dimension of rational emancipation; looking at camel through de-habitualized eye will invoke the scientific examination of camel. Same approach can be applied to all such verses that talk about different processes and phenomena happening around us on daily basis. For example, Quran, in different verses, has mentioned different “Signs of God” such as “life and death”, “the conversion of day and night”, “the movement of earth, sun, and moon”, “the change of seasons”, “the clouds and rain”, “the growth of plants”, “the diversity of creation” and so on. If these signs are approached through de-habitualized eye, there will be a revolutionary change. I’m neither submitting my rationality to utopia nor uttering an emotional jargon. There is well-set precedent in the history. Historically, this is what exactly the earlier Muslims did. As result, we see they were pious Muslims but at the same time they were equally active in doing science. They took both dimensions, spiritual as well as scientific, together; one complementing the other. Their magnificent contribution is acknowledged in both Eastern and Western part of the world.
Expanding further, let’s apply this method to another significant dimension of human experience called history. To shape the present it is quite important to see that how do we read, understand and relate history. Historical analysis is incomplete, if history is narrated outside the frame of “inner meaning” and “contemporary relevance”. Dealing with history, habitualization or “mana-i ismi” approach is to perceive history as a literal book of dates and records. Each historical event is read with relation to its date of occurrence and, applying Khaldunian terminology, “surface” narrative. The context, cause, and impact, to sum up, again borrowing from Ibn Khaldun, the “inner meaning” is ignored. Basically, this is “silent denial” of history. If we take the case of colonization, we will find the mechanism of habitualizationoperating in the colonized psyche. Here, habitualization developed as a tendency among the colonized subjects to normalize the colonizer; accepting colonizers worldview, culture, and style. Quite strangely, this psyche continued even after political and geographic colonization ended. Today, a wide range of concepts are produced and discussed under the umbrella of “decolonization theory”. I suggest de-habitualization as a method to decolonize history. On one hand, de-habitualization will enable a reader to deconstruct the colonial narratives of history and on other hand; it will reconnect the reader with the context and meaning-based narrative of a particular historical event. It doesn’t accept story-telling approach to history. De-habitualized reading of history is the method adopted and advocated by Quran. For example, Quran narrates the history of Prophet Yusuf so beautifully that it doesn’t lose “inner meaning” at any dot. The whole narration, from start to end, is dynamic, engaging, and powerful. It “consciously” takes reader into synchronicity of three phases: past, present and future.
Now, let’s apply this method to our action and response. The way we act and respond today makes us what we will be tomorrow. If we act and respond sensibly, we will be strong. And if we act and respond arrogantly, we will be weak. When we talk of action and response, it also includes our everyday interaction with nature and natural events. While dealing with nature, prior to our response, we have to fix our role in the problem otherwise, instead of solving it, we will obviously add to its severity. Today we are facing serious ecological issues. We are facing the problem of “global climate change”. Similarly, there is problem of air and water pollution. Looking at these grave concerns through habitualized eye, we fail to recognise our role and responsibility. We don’t see our negligence toward “environmental care” is adding substance to the catastrophe. For example, what do we do with the household waste, let alone industrial or commercial waste, we know it better. The surfaces of seas, lakes and streams reflect the whole story. Now, besides state intervention, what is the other force that will control our incivility and streamline our behaviour? Yes, de-habitualization. Here, de-habitualization will do two things. First, it will invoke our conscience and make us accountable for our actions. Second, it will allow us to see nature as a blessing and the only medium of our sustenance. It will put us in positive correlation with nature. That is, our stability is directly proportional to the stability of nature. In short, we respect nature as a divine gift so that we deserve nature as a divine bounty given to us as a trust. The moment we start assessing our action and nature through de-habitualized eye or “mana-i harfi” in Nursian context, we will become mindful of our responsibility and respectful toward nature and its resources. The whole scenario will change radically. De-habitualization approach will train us to acknowledge the impact of our small acts on nature. For example, we will be able to sense the incivility and un-mindfulness in just throwing out a chewing-gum cover on ground. I believe, de-habitualization approach can prove helpful in solving the ecological crisis.
To conclude, I will say habitualization is a sickness of mind. The present intellectual, moral, spiritual crisis in our societies is the direct outcome of this sickness. Habitualization has stifled our rational, critical and spiritual potential. Our social, educational, political and religious institutions have become victim of this dreadful sickness. Particularly, our educational institutions, otherwise the centres of creative learning, follow a habitualized curriculum and method of teaching too is habitualized. That is why our students are not able to produce healthy learning outcomes. Habitualization is the reason that, despite all material development, we are gradually moving towards negativity and hopelessness. The need of the hour is to eschew habitualization and embrace de-habitualization. De-habitualization will liberate us from the chains of artificiality and bring us close to reality.
*This essay was firs appeared in the Greater Kashmir newspaper on May 7, 2021.