Creatures of habit to what end?

Mohamedarif Suleman

(Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously (Wikipedia).  And so we can probably retrace our steps for each day – from the time we wake up to how we put ourselves to sleep (though this would be a misnomer in some cultures where phrases like ‘a city that never sleeps’, ‘night bird’, etc are positive attributions).

Habits come in so many different permutations, but are almost always shaped by environment, experience and occasionally experimentation.  Reading a paper (mobile) at breakfast, binging on movies before sleeping, taking incessant breaks at work, driving in the slow lane, observing fault in others, and many more may all be classified as habits, most of which die hard.  Indeed, once formed, it is impossible to tell the person from the habit as the two merge in such a way that it now becomes an attribute of that person’s description.

And because habits are also actions which we perform without thought or preparation, they have a very positive place in our lives – imagine filling your mouth with a spoonful and then having to think what you have to do thereafter, would be a chokingly catastrophic experience.  But because our conditioning and learning has taught us to then chew followed by gulp, this kind of habit makes our bodies function without slowing us down or placing us in danger.  Similarly, a fly circling your face, has to be swatted away, is a given for most of us, because of how we have learnt to be uncomfortable round them.  yet, there are many people whose habitats are infested with these vagabond creatures, and who barely flutter an eyelid in a similar situation.  These are very rudimentary examples of how experiential learning prepares us for the development of certain habits.

‘Once bitten, twice shy’, is another form of learnt or adapted habituation.  Someone who has been in an accident, will inadvertently play it safe when on the road, one who has had a fire in their kitchen, will forever remain wary of the perils facing a cook or a chef, and trust is usually a hard sell for those who have always been cheated and deceived.

Habits are also defined as good or bad, by and large.  But there are also those habits that fall in the grey shade of the Venn diagram of habits – a child spilling food all over his surrounding has probably not been trained well, as is the little girl who keeps poking her nose in other people’s affairs.  The opposing and hotly contested view of letting children be who they are, would claim otherwise.  In adults, a group of friends discussing another family, passing judgement and then a sentence, are defendant about their actions saying they are just discussing a current matter for critical awareness.  To another conscientious person, this would be tantamount to gossip.  Yet, the thing to understand is that all these are habits, good or bad.

Adam of TutorHunt suggest an introspection and an assessment about each of one’s habits and how they can be categorised as good or bad.  He recommends using the moral compass to conclude which ones to eliminate and which ones to sharpen.  A more interesting recommendation coming from the author is the management of one’s environment, for not everything in our surrounding, is healthy for us.  For instance, living in a place where it is the norm for men and women to dress scantily, a silent acceptance, numbness and finally adoption of those traits, would occur.  So if an adult can cope with the pressures of vary aggressively dressed women around him all the time, it is not necessary that his child would be able to do do the same and may as well start regarding those as norms rather than the exception.  Environment is the reason why parents perpetually try to restrict video game time or bad company for their children, because it is known how spending more time doing something makes that something part of your environment, and subsequently amalgamates with you as a habit.

Speaking of bad company, this applies across the board, not just children.  So if we surround ourselves with friends whose lifelong obsession is wealth, possessions and show off, or with those whose purpose of creation is to spy and eavesdrop on others, you may not exactly stand a chance of talking minimalism or real issues.

Le us turn our attention to our responsibilities as Muslims.  To be perfectly honest, we may not need to adjudicate the exact habits that exist in our society, because it still behooves that each one of us digs deep to align ourselves with the dictates of the Holy Qur’an and Ahadith from the Holy infallibles.

One particular point that we must dwell hard on is whether we are turning religion itself (which can be loosely defines as the code of conduct and a tool for meeting our life goals in consonance with those of the rest of creation), into a habit.  A religious habit then is far worse than any other habit.  I recall entering the shop of a seemingly devout Muslim outside my home city, as part of my sales cold call a few minutes after shutters opened up.  Upon entering, I saw the staff cleaning up the shop while the owner was speedily reciting Sura e Yaseen as part his morning habit.  For him, this habit was critical for the shop to free from evil forces and to usher in blessings.  Of course, since he must have been reciting the same for years, he knew this by heart, so his attention on the Qur’an was visibly divided between holding the book, and signalling to his staff to clean properly, and then ushering me to take a seat while he blitzed through the same.  Waiting there, I remembered my early years as a child when I sued to pop into the barber’s early in the morning, and he would compulsorily play the bhajan as part of the same plot.  Habits that have reduced a coded message into appeasements of the heart and rituals of melodious comfort, are indeed some of the most perilous and have a lasting effect on the failure of the Muslim ummah to rise beyond the ordinary. 

Do we have any habit that you think falls in this category?

About the author

Mohamedarif is a marketing professional and educationalist with a penchant for writing as a hobby since childhood. As he experimented writing about sporting events at first and then current affairs, he quickly developed a skill for observation of his environment and began to write on reform topics, especially in connection with the community. To further feed his pursuit of writing, he founded several newsletters and bulletins at his school and at the Husayni Madrasah in the 1980's, all the time learning from others already in the field not just about writing, but also about pre-press and production processes. He was also the editor-in-chief of the Knowledge Magazine in 1995–1996. A decade later, importing a flurry of ideas into his new home, Nairobi, he first founded a two page community newspaper then became a regular writer of the Friday Faculty before establishing the Community on Friday, a fully fledged Madrasah magazine in 1996. And while his writing at the community continued, he simultaneously started writing for a business weekly, pairing in with his newfound role as a marketing professional. During his time in Nairobi, he wrote several speeches for sitting chairmen and presidents while also giving some himself, developing his concurrent role as a public speaker and trainer.

With changing times and a decrease in advertising sponsorship, as well as a fall in overall readership, Mohamedarif transformed this publication into an electronic blog. Thus was born the Community on Friday in its present format.

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