By Adi Kurniawan and Heru Asprihanto
TANGERANG, Indonesia, May 11 (Reuters) - Learning the Koran doesn't have to be a solemn affair, says Islamic teacher Yahya Edward Hendrawan, who dresses up as a clown to inspire children to approach reading and reciting the Koran with cheer.
A teacher at an orphanage in the Indonesian city of Tangerang, Hendrawan dons a colourful clown costume, replete with white and pink face makeup and a red nose, to teach reading. The self-dubbed "sharia clown" focuses on Islamic studies during the fasting month of Ramadan.
"When we ask children to recite the Koran, it is a bit difficult. But if there are clowns, they feel they go to the classroom with some purpose," Hendrawan said.
The 38-year-old rides to the orphanage every day during Ramadan with his five-year-old son, Mirza, dressed as a baby clown with outsized glasses and a wig with a shock of yellow and orange hair.
The father and son usually spend about an hour applying makeup before meeting the children, including those from a community reading group.
Hendrawan's path to becoming the "sharia clown" was not easy. His father, who has since passed away, was not accepting of his methods, and used to tell Hendrawan he was an embarrassment.
"His behaviour hurt me so much, it felt like my heart was being cut into slices," Hendrawan said.
But encouragement from the orphanage's founder, gave Hendrawan confidence to pursue his dream of teaching as a clown.
Hendrawan now takes on part-time entertainment jobs and insists on including religious values and literacy programmes in his performances.
His enthusiasm to teach and keep children entertained has won him praise in the community.
"He helps children build an interest in reading, which will reduce the time they spend playing with phones or gadgets, and have a tremendous impact on their development," said Junaedi, the parent of a child who attends Hendrawan's reading classes, who like many Indonesians, goes by one name. (Reporting by Adi Kurniawan and Heru Asprihanto; Editing by Karishma Singh and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
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