Indonesian ‘Sharia Clown’ Wears Costume to Teach Children Quran

A Muslim woman takes a picture with her mobile of clowns and street performers in Beirut's Hamra shopping district on December 9, 2008. Thirty performers from Germany, Italy, Morocco and Lebanon donned rainbow-coloured wigs and round red plastic noses put on a show in the streets as frustrated drivers blasted …
RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP via Getty Images

An Indonesian teacher who calls himself the “Sharia Clown” dresses up in a clown costume every day during the month-long Islamic holiday of Ramadan to teach young children at an Indonesian orphanage how to read and recite the Quran.

Yahya Edward Hendrawan teaches Islamic studies to children at an orphanage in Tangerang, a city located near Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, on the island of Java. Hendrawan dons a brightly colored clown costume, complete with face paint and a red nose, to encourage children to recite the Quran during Ramadan, which this year lasts from April 13-May 13.

“When we ask children to recite the Koran [Quran], it is a bit difficult. But if there are clowns, they feel they go to the classroom with some purpose,” Hendrawan told Reuters on May 11.

“The 38-year-old rides [on a bicycle] 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,” Reuters reported. “The father and son usually spend about an hour applying makeup before meeting the children, including those from a community reading group.”

Hendrawan told the Indonesian news outlet Kompass on April 27 that his clown costume used to scare the children at the orphanage before he began forcing his toddler son to dress up as a clown as well and assist him as he taught the Quran.

“Since my little child joined, afraid children became brave. Because of what? Because (students) saw (Mirza) … [who is roughly their same] age,” Hendrawan said.

“They (the students) are very happy and very happy with my presence,” he added.

Kompass visited Tangerang’s orphanage on April 27 to observe Hendrawan’s Ramadan lesson for the day and conduct a profile on the self-dubbed “Sharia Clown.”

“Yahya [Hendrawan] taught the recitation of ta’awudz or isti’adzah [an Islamic] (prayer to seek protection) on that occasion,” Kompass wrote.

Hendrawan told Kompass in an interview after his class that he began performing professionally as a clown in 2010. Hendrawan said his “teacher,” presumably his clown instructor, suggested to him that he begin teaching the Quran at the orphanage in Tangerang later in 2010.

“My teacher has a mindset that wants me to become a modern [Abu] Nawas [sic],” he said, referring to the famous classical Arab poet.

“Abu Nawas is cheerful and funny. So, I was packaged to be a clown figure who teaches [children] to recite [the Quran] using a clown figure like this,” Hendrawan revealed.

“Let the children be more cheerful, more enthusiastic in reciting [the Quran],” he said of his goal.

Hendrawan also performs as a clown for part-time entertainment jobs outside the orphanage and “insists on including [Islamic] religious values and literacy programmes in his performances,” Reuters reported on May 11.

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