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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        24 January 2011

Governor wants sect out of Lombok

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West Nusa Tenggara's governor dreams of turning Lombok into a top holiday destination, rich in culture and known for interreligious harmony - but only if a minority Muslim sect is out of the picture.

Zainul Majdi said on Sunday that he did not see why the Ahmadiyah should be part of the island's plans to follow in the footsteps of neighboring Bali, a noted tourist hotspot.

Ahmadis, Zainul said, would be better off moving out of the province entirely or agreeing to a proposal to relocate to a remote island in West Nusa Tenggara.

The governor said the sect - maligned by mainstream Muslims for believing that Ahmadiyah founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet, in opposition to Islamic tenets - did not fit into his drive to ramp up Lombok's tourist appeal.

Zainul, a politician from the conservative Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), said he planned to promote dozens of traditional festivals to draw in more visitors.

The main highlight, he says, is Perang Topat, or rice cake war, a festival observed by both Hindus and Muslims in Lombok.

It is celebrated after Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, at the Lingsar Temple, a Hindu shrine in West Lombok.

The governor said he was eager to promote the rice cake festival as an example of the province's cultural diversity and religious tolerance.

However, such tolerance was called into question by some residents in Mataram, who said the Ahmadiyah members had suffered through mob attacks, the closure of their mosques or eviction from their homes.

"The relationship between Muslims and Hindus is harmonious. Conservative Muslims also live side by side with other Islamic communities which still conform to animistic beliefs. How can Muslims be so violent toward the Ahmadiyah?" said Gusti, a Hindu driver in Mataram.

But Zainul, who referred to the sect as "my Ahmadiyah brothers," said the only solution to tensions was to "get them out of the province" or move them to the remote village of Teluk Sepi in southern Lombok.

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