Alija Izetbegović (Bosnian, in Cyrillic: Алија Изетбеговић; ) (8 August 1925 – 19 October 2003) was a Bosniak activist, lawyer, author, philosopher and politician, who, in 1990, became the first president of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He served in this role until 1996, when he became a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, serving until 2000. He was also the author of several books, most notably Islam Between East and West and the Islamic Declaration.
Izetbegović was born in the town of Bosanski Šamac, situated in the north of Bosnia; he was one of five children born to a distinguished but impoverished family descended from former Ottoman aristocrats from Belgrade who fled to Bosnia after Serbia gained independence from the Ottoman Empire. His grandfather, Alija, was the mayor of Bosanski Šamac. While grandfather Alija was a soldier in Üsküdar, he married a Turkish woman called 'Sıdıka Hanım'. After marriage they moved to Šamac and had 5 children. His father, an accountant, declared bankruptcy in 1927 and the family moved to Sarajevo. Izetbegović became closely involved in Bosniak society as he grew up during the 1930s and 1940s. With a devoted family and Muslim upbringing, he received a secular education, eventually graduating from law school in Sarajevo. At this time he also joined the Mladi Muslimani (Young Muslims), a collaborationist "party of Islamic renewal" and youth group that aided refugees during the Second World War. After the war Izetbegović was arrested in 1946 and sentenced to 3 years in prison on charges of collaborationist and anti-communist activities. Once free, he earned a law degree at Sarajevo University and remained engaged in politics.
In 1970, Izetbegović published a manifesto entitled the Islamic Declaration, expressing his views on relationships between Islam, state and society. The authorities interpreted the declaration as a call for introduction of Sharia law in Bosnia, and banned the publication. The declaration remains a source of controversy. It was used by Serb nationalists as one of excuses for the war, often quoting the declaration as an intent to create an Iranian style Muslim republic in Bosnia. Passages from the declaration were frequently quoted by Izetbegović's opponents during the 1990s, portraying it as an open statement of Islamic fundamentalism. The opinion is shared by some Western authors such as John Schindler. Izetbegović vigorously denied such accusations. British author Noel Malcolm asserted that the Serb nationalist interpretation of the Declaration was false propaganda and offered a more benevolent reading of the declaration. Explaining that it was "a general treatise on politics and Islam, directed towards the entire Muslim world; it is not about Bosnia and does not even mention Bosnia" and that "none of these points can be described as fundamentalist." Malcolm argues that Izetbegović's views were much more thoroughly expressed in his later book, Islam between East and West, where he "tried to present Islam as a kind of spiritual and intellectual synthesis which included the values of West Europe."
Izetbegović wrote what is however regarded as his central work, the book Islam between East and West, in 1980. It explores the notion that "Islam is the only synthesis capable of unifying mankind's essentially dualistic existence".
In April 1983, Izetbegović and twelve other Bosniak activists (including Melika Salihbegović, Edhem Bičakčić, Omer Behmen, Mustafa Spahić and Hasan Čengić) were tried before a Sarajevo court for a variety of offences, principally hostile activity inspired by Muslim nationalism, association for purposes of hostile activity and hostile propaganda. Izetbegović was further accused of organizing a visit to a Muslim congress in Iran. All of those tried were convicted and Izetbegović was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. The verdict was strongly criticised by Western human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Helsinki Watch, which claimed that the case was based on "communist propaganda", and the accused were not charged with either using or advocating violence. The following May, the Bosnian Supreme Court conceded the point with an announcement that "some of the actions of the accused did not have the characteristics of criminal acts" and reduced Izetbegović's sentence to twelve years. In 1988, as communist rule faltered, he was pardoned and released after almost five years in prison. His health had suffered serious and lasting damage.