Political Islam in Bosnia-Herzegovina


The Islamic Awakening in Yugoslavia began in the 1970s and was accompanied by the Islamic Awakening in the Arab Region. That Awakening was seen in many religious phenomena, which were attributed to educational exchanges between Muslim intellectuals from various Muslim countries. The financial growth of Yugoslavia, the remittances from Bosnian refugees together with the donations of Bosnians who work abroad, led to rebuild and restore some mosques, while some other mosques were rebuilt by the Yugoslav Federation.

Events later took an unfortunate turn, with the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. A bloody ethnic war took place between 1992 and 1995; it was accompanied by devastation, destruction and turmoil in Bosnian society, claiming tens of thousands of victims.

More than 1000 mosques and Islamic schools were destroyed during the war. This coincided with the inability of the International Institute of the Red Cross and State institutions to conduct any reconstruction and rehabilitation works. [[1]]

Demographic Make-Up of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina is made up of several ethnic communities, the proportion of which is distributed as follows: 50.1% Bosnian Muslims followed by 31% Serbs, 15.5% Croats, 3.7% others.

Since the 15th century, Islam entered Bosnia and Herzegovina and it was well entrenched in Bosnian society during the tenure of the Ottoman Empire from 1463 to 1878.

The main religious authority for Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the Islamic Organization of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ICBiH), based in Sarajevo, which was founded in 1882 when Bosnia was under Austrian/Hungarian rule and was part of the Muslim community in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia until 1992. [[2]]

Islamic awakening, foreign influence and extremism in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Upon the arrival of the Islamic Awakening in Yugoslavia; the initial impacts have been identified in Bosnia and Herzegovina, mainly through humanitarian aid organizations established by Arab states; the war opened a door for exterior Islamic intervention.

In 1992, the so-called mujahideen (Arab-Afghans) entered Bosnia and Herzegovina; a few of them are still there, while the rest have spread as refugees and workers in other European countries close to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But the humanitarian aid was not limited to food and other supplies, but also included Islamic books from the Middle East, which were deemed necessary to “re-Islamize” secular Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the end of the war. Islamic foreign influences in the country increased greatly through donations and the building of mosques. . [[3]]

At this time, countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan continued to pursue their foreign policy goals by opening and rebuilding mosques throughout the country. Saudi Arabia and Iran were the first two countries to aid Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war.

However, Turkey has not immediately provided assistance despite being considered a “sister country” to Bosnia and Herzegovina! With the help of Saudi Arabia, the revival influence of the Islamic awakening came mainly in the form of the Wahhabi and Salafi currents, as they funded kindergartens, schools and mosques. They also published Salafi books and books, in addition to scholarships to study in KSA. After 1995 the Active Islamic Youth League (AIO) was established, and it is made up of former members of the Arab Mujahideen Unit, and the circular SAFF, became the most prominent outlet of the Salafi doctrine. [[4]]

Likewise, Iranian influence was very prominent during the 1990s, when it came in the form of humanitarian aid. There was also financial and military aid, including weapons, military teachers and intelligence officers. The influence of Iran and Shiism in the post-war period was significant, although it came from a small group. Since then, Bosnia and Herzegovina has significantly curtailed its previously close ties with Iran, but it continues to nurture cultural ties through the Cultural Center of the Islamic Republic of Iran, including academic exchanges and publications such as the Cultural Magazine, Biharistan. [[5]]

Islamist Turkish influence

It is often believed that Turkey’s influence on Bosnia and Herzegovina is significant due to the historical links across the Ottoman Empire. It is believed that about two-thirds of the Bosnian Muslim population is made up of pro-Turkey conservatives! But it is noted that Turkey was not among the first countries to help Bosnia during the ethnic war. Today, however, under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey’s foreign policy has reflected a greater interest in the Balkans region in general, and Bosnia is believed to have less interest in development aid than Serbia (approximately 30% less). [[6]]

So since 2002, the Turkish organization TİKA has been one of the most important Turkish organizations present in Bosnia, and it was also interesting that in 2004, the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate, known as Diyanat, and ICBiH signed a Memorandum of Understanding that announced that the two organizations would cooperate closely on issues of Islam in the basis of common traditions and experience. [[7]]

There are many differences between the two countries’ political elites indicate that the relation between Turkey and Bosnia is not as strong as is widely believed. The followers of Fethullah Gülen had a great influence on Bosnia and Herzegovina in the first place through education, especially schools, as well as the “Hizmet” institution that still exists. Development and the Gülen movement in 2013 in the deterioration of relations between the main Bosnian political party (Strake Demokratske Akcije- SDA) and ICBiH, which was influenced by the policy of the AKP Party, and the Hizmet Foundation. This resulted in the isolation of the Gülen movement from the Islamic scene in Bosnia, and ICBiH’s children left from Hazmat schools. [[8]]

With the various external influences present in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in addition to other factors such as the number of foreign fighters who left the country to fight in Syria, the Muslim population in Bosnia and Herzegovina is seen as vulnerable to radicalization and extremism! In the book “The Next Balkan Caliphate: The Threat of Radical Islam to Europe and the West” Bosnia and Herzegovina is described as “the cradle of terrorism in Europe,” within the European Union. [[9]]

The increase in the financial bonds of the Bosnian Muslim population was also observed during the interviews, as the interviewees reflected the status of the permanent bond demand by both opposition groups in the country, and globally due to the number of foreign fighters from Bosnia? Two security experts at GLOBSEC highlighted that while there was an increasing number of Wahhabis and Salafists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the threat posed by this development was greatly exaggerated.

ICBiH plays an important role in limiting foreign influences and preventing religious radicalization in the country; In 1993, the then chief ulama, Mustafa Siric, issued a fatwa regarding mandatory compliance with the Hanafi school of thought in all religious rituals in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this fatwa was a way to reduce the influence of external parties by ensuring that the practice of Islam in the country remained within the boundaries of historically known traditions. Nevertheless, the fatwa was not circulated and implemented, leaving space for outside actors to spread their ideology through publications while the strengthening of external influences in Bosnia during and after the war continued.

The MB in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Unlike Serbia and North Macedonia, the presence of the MB in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a subject of interest, particularly for the popular media and those who wish to benefit from it by linking their political opponents with the MB.

The initial links of Bosnian individuals and groups with the MB go back to the 1940s with the founding of the Muslim Youth Society (BHS: Mladi Muslimani). Which was an organization of Muslim intellectuals and was founded in 1939, who are often described as an illegal group of Islamic activists, and there are opinions of Bosnian experts that the Muslim Youth Group was founded influenced by the emergence of the Brotherhood movement in Egypt at that time; and it became a branch of it in Bosnia and Herzegovina. [[10]]

The Muslim Youth Group rejected the decision of the Yugoslav government to prosecute 13 Muslim thinkers belonging to it in 1983 after the Sarajevo events, during which they were accused of belonging to a group calling for Islamic fundamentalism, mainly in the Sarajevo attacks. It was considered a hostile activity inspired by Islamic fundamentalism belonging to political Islam through forming associations for the purposes of political Islam, hostile activity and hostile propaganda. [[11]]

Among the founding members sentenced to 14 years imprisonment (they were pardoned after two years) was the Bosnian leader Ali Izetbegovi, who later became the first president of Bosnia and Herzegovina after the declaration of independence in 1992 before becoming a leader of the SDA political party and then head of state. The ruling against Izetbegovi was linked to an article entitled “The Islamic Declaration” that was written in the 1970s; It was republished in 1990 and the content of the Islamic declaration is sometimes described as being based on an Islamic ideology similar to those of the MB, and its contents are still controversial to this day. [ ]The ideological presence of the MB continued in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the establishment of the Democratic Action Party, and the presence of many Muslim youths, and Izetbegovi is considered her inspiration. But after the death of Alija Izetbegovic, his son, Bakr, took over the leadership of the party and since then he was also an ideological affiliate of the MB.

And in 2014, according to news reports many of them in scandal newspapers, Bakir Izetbegoviic “welcomed a delegation of the MB to the presidency! The articles also included a picture of Bakir Izetbegoviic using the Rab’a symbol, a well-known reference to the MB! But there are no official records of this meeting on the Presidency website? This meeting continued to be the subject of media debate. In 2016, the Serbian newspaper “Politika” published an article entitled “Bakir Izetbegoviic, under the surveillance of the American intelligence services.”

After the trial of former President Mohamed Morsi began in 2015, Bakr Izetbegovi issued an official presidential statement calling on Egypt to respect human rights and ensure a fair trial for Morsi.

“Morsi was elected legally, but after that he was overthrown in a military coup, then deprived of his freedom and subjected to judicial procedures with a political dimension aimed at eliminating political rivals and people of different views of the regime of Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and ended with physical liquidation,” Izetbegovi said.

Despite this, the affiliation of Muslim youth with the MB is often contested, as they claim that the reason for the rebellion of this group was in response to the Cvetkovic and Masik agreement, and not because of their Brotherhood ideological ties.

Evidence indicates that the “Muslim Youth” members were a group of intellectuals, in the time of socialist Yugoslavia, who were exploring their ties to Islam and, in doing so, behaving in opposition to the government; Their explorations led them to encounter people from other countries in similar circumstances, that is, those who live in regimes that do not allow space for religion, such as Turkey. These circumstances are used today as an indication of their links to the MB. The Sarajevo process in 1983 showed the persecution of these intellectuals on the basis of their opposition to the government, not their planning for an Islamic revolution. In the opinion of Dr. Rajko Danilovic, the defense attorney for some of the accused, the evidence for the verdict was either fabricated or exaggerated.

In addition, according to the accounts of those concerned to minimizing the repercussions of Bakir Izetbegovic’s meeting in 2014 with representatives of the Egyptian MB and his use of a fourth signal, the act was a manifestation of ignorance, not a show of support for the MB. Previously, Bakir Izetbegovi had the opportunity to meet with some members of the Muslim Brotherhood through his father and his personal relationships, and thus he was shocked by the events of Cairo. He misrepresented his support for those who suffered the tragedy.

The European Council for Fatwa and Research held several regular sessions for organizing in Sarajevo in 2007 and 2013. The ideologue of the MB, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, was present at the 2013 conference, along with Bakir Izetbegovi, and the head of scholars Hussain. there are multiple relations linking Sheikh al-Qaradawi with Bosnia and Herzegovina and individuals from the country, ICBiH was aware of the controversy surrounding his personality, thus creating a distance between the community and him; for example, ICBiH refused to interview Al-Qaradawi and publish it through their media. [13 ]

Another prominent figure in Bosnia and Herzegovina was alleged to be Dr. Mustafa Ceric, a former head of scholars with links to and leadership of the MB.

Ceric, however, is a member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research related to the Muslim Brotherhood, along with Sheikh Al-Qaradawi and other prominent figures in the MB. In addition, he is a member of the “Radical Middle Way” organization based in the United Kingdom, through which he had the opportunity to communicate with many scholars associated with the MB; His eagerness to be included in the political processes as well as his changing positions and views was confirmed in a conversation with experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina. [14 ]

He is accused of acting in his personal interest; He changes his speech according to who is talking to him. But while he is in European meetings, he prefers to use a more moderate discourse, and be more inclined to advocate against violence by Islamists, but his speech in Bosnia is more intense. He is seen among the Bosnians as a scholar of the Islamic religion and a great example for its youth. However, his stumbling blocks in the political arena badly damaged his reputation.

Ceric has many attempts as a political ambition; Relying on his popularity, Islamic scholarly ability, and ties to political Islam; as he was reported to have considered running for the same position in 2018. This was not surprising to residents because he was known to use his religious stature and connections for political purposes! His candidacy was seen as potentially dangerous to Bosnian society and was attributed to his insatiable need to be somewhere at the top, in a position through which one could satisfy and fortify his aspirations.

Several reports and studies on his personality also indicate that Ceric’s relations with organizations and individuals affiliated with the MB are attributed to his desire to achieve personal goals instead of advancing political Islam! Those how studied his personality and those who disagree with him believe that the establishment and preservation of these relationships has been strengthened by Ceric during a previous attempt to impose himself as the Grand Mufti and reference for the Muslims of Europe, and thus he presents himself as a religious and spiritual leader for them and thus as a politician.

Current activities of the MB in Bosnia and Herzegovina – AKOS

According to Lorenzo Vidino, few organizations in Europe are believed to be the result of MB activity on the continent. One such organization is the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), which is headquartered in Brussels, according to its website, AKOS is a non-partisan, non-governmental and non-profit organization that is funded by donor contributions, membership fees, and economic activities.

Upon reviewing the registered server in the United States for a website run by AKOS, www.akos.ba, she revealed that the majority of the site’s 3,400 visitors per day, among them (84.5%) come from Bosnia and Herzegovina while the rest come from abroad, which indirectly means foreign interest limited online “the organization, along with its revenues, amounting to approximately $ 41,849, based on estimated advertising revenue of just under $ 1,000 per year.

The organization focuses on educating young people, mainly redirecting attention from the negative influences that have led to moral decay, loss of true human values, indulgence in drugs, alcohol, fornication and other forms of destructive and dangerous behavior.

However, interestingly enough, AKOS also on their page highlights who cannot be a member of the organization, that is, people convicted of crimes against security or basic human rights, people disciplined or expelled by other associations, and people who violate the unity of the association.

AKOS also belongs to the non-governmental organization “Association for Culture and Education” (AKEA), which was operating in Kosovo as an organization with suspected links to the Muslim Brotherhood. AKEA was closed in 2014 by the Kosovo Special Prosecutor’s Office as one of 64 suspicious organizations. According to news reports from 2014, the organization, based in Pristina, was close to the MB in Egypt and had the support of Turkish President Erdogan through the Turkish organization TIKA.

AKOS offers a large number of articles on the MB, and they can be divided into four categories: the history and development of the MB, developments in Egypt, interviews or reports on the thought of the MB, figures affiliated with the MB, and the Brotherhood group Muslims and their impact in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The articles that fall under the first category outlining the historical developments of the MB include a series entitled “Martyrs of the Muslim Islamic Movement” (BHS: Šehidi islamskog pokreta Muslimanska braća), which presents the biographies of their most famous “martyrs,” including Hasan al-Banna. The second category of articles focuses on political developments in Egypt, such as the demonstrations and the death of Morsi. The third group of articles consisted of lectures and opinion articles translated by people such as Tariq Ramadan and Sheikh Al-Qaradawi.

In 2015, AKOS published an interview with Ramadan titled “Tariq Ramadan: Defining Identity with Openness and Flexibility Is Very Important,” where he was presented as one of the most important Islamic thinkers today. It was later introduced as “Ibn Dr. Sayed Ramadan, student and close associate of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the largest and most influential modern Islamic movement.

AKOS published in 2013 a paper entitled “The MB Movement; Origin, work and thinking in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” excerpts from his master’s thesis and Mustafa Berlija’s book on the MB movement and its impact on Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the introductory section of the book, he deals with the nature of the movement in the following sentences: Its contribution to affirming Islam and Islamic values, and restoring self-confidence and self-esteem among Muslims is great and indisputable no matter what happens.

In the following sections, the research presents an account of the MB: And the influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. first by referring to “a group of our students, who were studying in Cairo at the time of its establishment, were aware of this movement and the way it worked in that first phase and how they also transferred these ideas to these areas upon their return” and they are a group Young Muslims. The research described the educational impact of the MB on Muslims around the world and their search for “finding an appropriate, effective and at the same time Islamic response to the many challenges they faced.” The research concludes that the events in Bosnia were just “a distant echo of the events of the historical era that occurred in Egypt! which first it returned to the Egyptians and then to other Islamic societies hope and belief in their strength and, in general, in the possibility of the Islamic response to the huge civilizational challenges they faced above all, which severely put pressure on their reality. [15 ]

FEMSYO association also convened in 2018 in Sarajevo and was hosted by AKOS and in 2019. Two members of this NGO were representatives of FEMYSO, another MB-affiliated organization that Vidino identified according to the information provided in the AKOS press release, the organization was a member at FEMSYO for the past fifteen years.

Despite multiple attempts, we were unable to obtain an official response regarding the search in AKOS. But it is important to note that while the language related to the MB in the articles on the AKOS website was positive towards the Brotherhood, it does not directly advocate affiliation with the ideology of the MB; Moreover, the AKOS portal also publishes a variety of other largely articles on Islam, Religion-Based Lifestyle and Welfare. [[12]]

As for programming, the AKOS portal highlights humanitarian aid activities, as well as courses for young entrepreneurs, donations through cooperation with Bosnian entrepreneurs, and various other activities.

While talking to security experts and members of the Muslim community, it was consistently emphasized that despite union membership and the publication of articles related to the MB, AKOS is simply a religion-inspired NGO led by young Muslims from Bosnia. According to reports these young Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina who advocate an integrative European method, as a case paved with respect for human rights, democratic values, pluralism and interfaith dialogue.

Despite AKOS posts on its website, all the experts interviewed indicated that they were not aware of the existence of the MB as an organized movement in the country. According to these accounts, unlike the case of the Salafi currents in Bosnia and Herzegovina, no traces of the MB’s operations were discovered, including persons or financial relationships that were related to any political movement or political party in the context of Bosnia and Herzegovina. [17 ]

In Conclusion

Whoever follows the Islamic movement in Bosnia from the days of the Yugoslav federation until the disintegration of the union and the civil war; finds it evident that the Bosnian Islamists have a clear inclination towards the ideology of political Islam. If the justification for this tendency is due to the days of Yugoslav leader Tito’s persecution of Islamism, and his benefiting from the experience of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule in his dealings with the Brotherhood movement in Egypt.

However, after the dissolution of the Yugoslav federation, the trend towards the ideology of political Islam became clear, starting with the movements and writings of the Bosnian leader Ali Izetbegovic until the Arab Spring. Although reports on belonging to the worldwide MB are unconfirmed, the Islamist orientation, activity, and desires are all indicative of that. In addition to the relations with famous Brotherhood personalities and the activities of these personalities and their presence in the Islamic events that take place in Bosnia.

Today, however, the concern and apprehension of this trend towards the ideology of MB political Islam is due specifically to the Erdogan phenomenon through attempts to resurrect the new Ottomanism, and the rise and expansion of Turkey through the Turkish communities in Europe.

Erdogan is now using the Turkish community and the Brotherhood’s political Islam branches for the benefit of his policy. The use process is evident during the political disputes with some European governments, and since the Erdogan influence is evident in the Islamic cases, whether in Bosnia or elsewhere, this enhances the possibility of such groups belonging to political Islam in its Brotherhood version.

[1] Interview with a group of experts in Sarajevo (BiH 13 February 2021).

[2] Hamza Briljević, “Preventing religious extremism in Bosnia and Herzegovina: the role of the Muslim community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Muslim Minority Affairs Journal. Number: 4. (2T1/Ktuber 2017).

[3] See Book: “The Islamic Renaissance of Post-Socialist Bosnia and Herzegovina,” p. 523,525.

[4] See Book: “Prevention of religious extremism in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Preljević. Y: 184.

[5] See book: “The Islamic Renaissance of Post-Socialist Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Karci 528.

[6] See Book “Turkey’s Role in Bosnia and Herzegovina” by Dino Mojadžević, p. 26. St. Gallen Print: University of St. Gallen, 2017),

[7] The ICBiH is the main religious authority for Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

[8] Book: The coming Balkan succession: The Threat of Radical Islam to Europe and the West, p. 12. Christopher Deliso. London edition: Praeger Sicherty International, 2007.

[9] Former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovi stated that the quality of Islam in Bosnia and Herzegovina is changing and becoming increasingly extremist, which has security implications for Bosnia, but also for Croatia. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz also expressed problematic feelings towards Muslims in Bosnia, noting that “young women and girls in Sarajevo and Pristina get paid to cover their heads.” Such statements show that the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Herzegovina are also resettled outside the borders of the country. See: Priljevic, “Preventing Religious Extremism in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

[10] Ethnic conflict and international intervention: Crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1990-1993. For Steven L. Burg and Paul S. Shoup (Routledge, 2015), p. 67.

[11] Previous Source Page 67

[12]  https://akos.ba/osam-stvari-koje-morate-nauciti-svoje-sinove/

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