A local Chinese man made news recently when he was reunited with his long-lost family after being switched at birth. Today, another piece of news about him appeared in the papers; he wants to convert from being a Muslim to a Buddhist, because he was raised in a Malay Muslim family as a result of the switch and thus “was never given the chance to choose his own religion.”
In Malaysia, we’re “free” to choose our religion. You can be a Hindu one day and a Buddhist the next. You can revert to being a Hindu if you should so please the day after. But to be a Muslim is a one-way trip with no return ticket available. So if you became a Muslim by conversion through marriage, you cannot undo that if you divorce. And you can’t marry a Muslim without being one.
But honestly, this reason given is quite lame. If you really think about it, why should the Chinese man, Zulhaidi Omar, be given the choice of choosing his religion just because of the baby switch that so unfortunately happened to him? If he can be given the choice, why can’t this choice be given to all Malaysians, even though they were not switched at birth? Because if religion is something you choose, is it really your choice if your biological family raised you as a Muslim? What if you don’t want to be a Muslim?
Freedom of religion in Malaysia is often talked about, even cited as a reason for how one is happy to live in Malaysia, but it remains just that: talk. Freedom of religion is just in name, with terms and conditions just like everything else in life.