Alija Izetbegovic



Bosnian leader who led his country to independence. Alija Izetbegovic, wartime President, Presidency of Bosnia (1990-96) and rotating President (1996-2000) Bosnian leader who led his country to independence. Alija Izetbegovic, as president, fought to preserve the polytechnic and multi-cultural character of his country since 1992 when Europe descended into the bloodiest conflict since the Second World War. Izetbegovic led his country through the period when it was subject to a genocidal attack by Croats and Serbs and manipulation by an alliance of the French and British Governments, who favoured the emergence of a Greater Serbia. He was subject to the most intense pressures to accept plans for the partitioning of his country, eventually imposed in the form of the Dayton Plan. Izetbegovic coped with the chaos arising from the collapse of the federation. Yet he was one of the key figures who managed to preserve the concept of Bosnia as a sovereign state - Bosnia-Herzegovina came in being on 5 April 1992. Izetbegovic founded the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) in May 1990 as a vehicle for views he honed as a dissident intellectual. He showed courage during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, running affairs of state from sandbagged offices in a capital under siege, surviving kidnapping and countless artillery barrages. He helped ensure the survival of the Bosnian Muslims, or Bosnjaks, as they became known after 1993, as a distinct people sharing their own state with Bosnian Serbs and Croats despite deaths, ethnic cleansing and the destruction of properties suffered by a large majority of Bosnjak civilians. Izetbegovic, as a founder member of the Mladi Muslimani (Young Muslims) at the Sarajevo Gymnasium and then as a law student at Sarajevo University, took up the rights of Muslims to practice their faith. The Mladi Muslimani, founded in 1939, based their activities and programmes on what is now known as political or ideological Islam. In 1945, the communist dictatorship of Josip Tito abolished all non-communist groups and arrested their leaders. Izetbegovic spent three years in prison. When he was released he enrolled in Agronomy for almost three years, after which he lost interest and then transferred to the Law faculty in 1954 where he graduated. Upon graduation, he worked for a construction firm for almost ten years. Izetbegovic was again arrested in 1983 for allegedly seeking to revive the Mladi Muslimani and, after a farcical trial, sentenced to 14 years imprisonment of which he spent five years and eight months behind bars. During this time his manuscript 'Islam between East and West', an exploration of the unique position of Bosnia's Muslims, was smuggled out of prison. Written in the most trying prison conditions, it nevertheless is a manifesto for the revival of intellectual confidence amongst Muslims. He was released as part of an amnesty in 1988. He emerged from obscurity at the end of the 1980s, just as the political battles that accompanied the collapse of communism and the nationalistic ascendancy were being played out. Alija Izetbegovic born in Bosanski Samac, Yugoslavia, into a middle class Bosnian family was a mild-mannered lawyer and a life-long champion of independence. He was a devout Slav Muslim whose devotion to Islamic principles extended beyond all others, an obedience to Allah rather than to any nation or government, and a sense of belonging to a Muslim brotherhood. He also worked for the moral and religious regeneration of the Muslim community. He retired from Bosnia's presidency in 2000 due to his health deteriorating. He remained a giant figure on his country's political stage. During his life, he published many works including The Miracles of Bosnian Resistance, Problems of the Islamic Renaissance and The Islamic Declaration which was translated into seven languages. He also published powerful memoirs which records his encounters as an extraordinary man and his devoted quest for justice which led him to knock at the portals of the world capitals in Washington, Paris, London, Riyadh and Ankara so as to bring world attention to the ongoing Bosnian crisis. Alija died of a heart attack in Sarajevo's Kosovo Hospital, which overlooks the graves of so many of that city's siege victims.

Compiled by:M. Nauman Khan / M A Sherif / Jubril Alao

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