Q: What is the meaning of “victory” for a believer, and how is it realized?
Human life in this world is a composite of two distinct powers, the spirit and the flesh. Although it is sometimes the case that these two powers act in harmony, conflict between them is more usual, conflict of a kind in which the victory of one results in the defeat of the other. In an individual who vigorously indulges bodily lusts, the spirit grows more powerless as it becomes more obedient to those lusts; however, in another individual, one who has given the spirit dominance over the flesh, in whom the heart (the seat of spiritual intellect) has power over reason, and who vigorously opposes the bodily lusts, it attains eternity.
The secret of attaining the eternal life of the spirit
Every part of a spiritually bankrupt country can be likened to a graveyard, no matter how many hundreds of triumphal arches and statues adorn its thoroughfares. The mass of people living in such a country are in reality blind and unfortunate, and a world not built on the breath of the spirit is nothing but the plaything of human violence. A culture which has not developed an ethos that encourages virtue is like an evil sorceress who has ambushed humanity. However, it may never be possible to persuade coarse, insensitive people of this, people who pay no attention to anything except their own pleasures, who have become incapable of considering their lives as connected with the well-being and happiness of others. If only such people had some perception of the mystery of their own deaths, they might yet attain the eternal life of the spirit.
Only those who have filled their hearts with the most sublime ideals and love of humanity will lead a spiritual life so as to attain eternity in their very selves. These fortunate people transcend their carnal desires, grow spiritually alert and attain victory over the commands of the self.
Only the person who overcomes his or her self can rightly be called powerful and victorious. The miserable individuals who have not been able to release themselves from captivity to the self are liable to defeat even if they have conquered the entire world. Moreover, we cannot give to their conquest of the world the name of "victory," since their permanent presence in the lands they have invaded is an impossibility.
Napoleon was in the madness of esteeming himself sole ruler of the world. I wonder whether he was able to grasp that his real failure was when he slapped a philosopher and this was more bitter and humiliating than his defeat at Waterloo. In the person of that philosopher he actually slapped knowledge and virtue. Mustafa Pasha of Merzifon had been inwardly defeated before his army was put to flight at Vienna. This first defeat in Ottoman history showed itself in the spirit of the commander in chief, then spread far and wide among his forces, and not only caused him to lose his head, but allowed the greatest army of conquest the world had yet known to experience flight. Yildirim Khan, Bayazid I, was not defeated in Cubuk, but on the day when he belittled his opponent and hailed himself as sole ruler of the world. And there have been many others like these...
But we have positive examples too. Tariq ibn Ziyad was victorious, not when he defeated the Visigoths' army of ninety thousand men with a handful of self-sacrificing valiants, but when he stood before the wealth and treasures of the king and said, "Be careful, Tariq. You were a slave yesterday. Today you are a victorious commander. And tomorrow you will be under the earth."
Salahuddin Ayyubi's generous treatment of Richard I astonished and embarrassed the arrogant commander. Alp Arslan conducted himself in peace and mercy towards Romanus IV Diogenes. Likewise, Kilic Arslan released all the crusaders captured during the battle at Antalya Castle. All these examples of humane and noble behavior are in fact the victory of the sublime spirit.
The enormous army of Mehmed II (the Conqueror) owed its success to the power of faith and the spirit. Mehmed II never relied on physical power; rather, he represented spiritual power as well as his military genius. Otherwise, his entry to Istanbul would have been no different than Caesar's entry into Rome; but Mehmed II entered the capital of Byzantium in a manner of forgiveness, tolerance and justice just like Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, upon the conquest of Mecca.
Selim I regarded the world as too small for two rulers. He was truly victorious, not when he crowned some kings and dethroned others, but when he entered the capital in silence while its people were asleep so as to avoid their enthusiastic welcome and applause for his victories. He was also victorious when he ordered that the robe which had been spattered with mud by the horse of his teacher be draped over his coffin because it had been honored. The Roman commander Cato was victorious and made a place for himself in his people's memory, not when he defeated the Carthaginians, but when he handed his horse and command over to the Roman Emperor, saying, "I fought to serve my nation. Now my duty is fulfilled, I am going back to my village." And all the while his army was entering Carthage, the capital city of Rome's enemy and rival, in triumph.
To transcend selfishness
Sacrificing one's enjoyment of worldly pleasures has the same significance for human progress as the roots of a tree have for its growth. Just as a tree grows sound and strong in direct relation to the soundness and strength of its roots, so too a human being grows to perfection while striving to free himself or herself from selfishness and instead to live only for others.
We must look at history in order to find examples of real heroes since it is full of stories of great individuals. For instance, history tells us of the caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, whom it finds carrying a sack of flour in public as soon as he felt a little pride in his heart. We have such heroes who effectively conducted armies and ruled countries during the day while they spent the night in remembrance of God. Those fortunate ones able to maintain a spiritual life no matter what their duties always appeared within the same tradition.
It is essential for an individual to overcome the carnal self. The idea of the "greater jihad" or "struggle against the carnal self" is the starting point of this struggle which gradually affects all the conduct of human beings. This idea also teaches the person how to become invincible against the self. Only those who have attained a victorious spirit can dominate all types of materialistic power in the Universe. In contrast, those who are captured by the self are liable to defeat and regarded as miserable even if they conquer the world. Therefore, the heroes we have mentioned here are different than others. Indeed, real heroes and victorious commanders attained triumph because of the victory of the spirit in their very selves.
To conclude, those who are deprived of sublime ideals and who cannot overcome their personal pleasures cannot be called victorious even if they conquer the entire world. In this case, their temporary success unfortunately results in their everlasting defeat. The only way to transform possible defeats into eternal victories is to attain the victory of the spirit. The crowned heads of the future will be those fortunate ones who have attained felicity through victories of the spirit.