Malaysian Chinese swapped at birth seeks to renounce Islam

An ethnic Chinese man who was mistakenly handed to a Muslim couple at birth in a hospital mix-up found his biological parents 21 years later, but now faces a new battle - to renounce Islam and acquire a Chinese name, a news report said Monday.

Zulhaidi Omar was often teased about his Chinese features, and never felt close to the Malay couple that he believed were his parents, The Star newspaper said.

In a remarkable coincidence, he was spotted working in a supermarket eight years ago by his biological sister who noticed he was the spitting image of their father, Teo Ma Leong, 67. A DNA test later confirmed the relationship and Zulhaidi moved in with his parents three months later, The Star said.

The family went public with their story only now - after eight years - because Zulhaidi, 29, wants to take up a Chinese name and change his religion to Buddhism, The Star said.

But that's easier said than done in this predominantly Malay Muslim nation where the constitution does not allow Muslims to renounce their religion. Doing so is considered apostasy and is punishable by jail, the AP reports.

Michael Tay, a politician with the ruling Malaysian Chinese Association which is helping the family, was quoted as saying that Zulhaidi lost the right to choose his religion because of the hospital mix-up in the southern state of Johor.

"Under the federal constitution, everyone is allowed the freedom to choose his own religion but Zulhaidi was never given the chance," Tay was quoted as saying.

"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," he said, adding that might include a suit against the hospital for negligence, the AP reports.

Zulhaidi, Tay and state religious officials could not be reached for comments.

The Malay boy that the Teo family brought home because of the mix up was raised as Tian Fa, and is now married to a Chinese woman, according to The Star.

The Star said Tian Fa has no intention of looking for his biological family and is happy to treat Teo and his wife, Lim Sai Hak, as his parents.

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