The Islamic prohibition on apostasy – either becoming an atheist or converting to another religion – leads to many painful circumstances. Richard Lloyd Parry of the London Times tells the poignant and strange story now taking place in the town of Batu Pahat, Malaysia, in "Changeling baby finds family after 21 years. Now he is caught between faiths."
In 1978, two couples had baby boys in the same hospital.
Mr. Teo Ma Long and Ms Lim Sik Hai, Chinese Malaysians and Buddhists, named their son Teo Tian Fa.
An unnamed Malay, Muslim couple named their son Zulhaidi Omar.
For 21 years the two families lived not far apart in Batu Pahat, each of them bringing up a boy child with skin color, eye shapes, and other features different from its own. The Chinese family realized immediately that its dark-skinned child was someone else's child, but appeals to the hospital got nowhere. "We sensed that something was amiss because the baby was darker and did not look like any of us," Teo recounted. "We went back to the hospital to check if there had been a mistake. But they insisted that he was our child. So we brought him up as one of our own, although we knew our actual son was out there somewhere."
Then in 1998, when Zulhaidi Omar was 21, a Chinese woman stared intently at him several times as he worked in a market, then she brought an older couple to see him, who also looked at him intensely. Finally, his older sister and parents spoke to him and convinced him to take a DNA test to prove what they had sensed.
Almost a decade later, Zulhaidi Omar wants to renounce Islam and become a Buddhist. But as he officially of the Malay ethnicity, the law requires him to be a Muslim. Further, to convert out of Islam is to become a murtadd and liable to be executed. Michael Tay of the Malaysian Chinese Association notes that "Under the federal constitution, everybody is allowed the freedom to choose his own religion but Zulhaidi was never given that chance. We will try the diplomatic method, first through negotiations with state officials and the hospital where he was born. If that fails, then we will have to seek legal recourse. They are not interested in monetary compensation, but the father wants his son to regain his rightful identity."
Comment: This case, besides its intense human-interest quality, has the potential to disrupt Malaysian laws and social relations. (February 6, 2007)