Muslims cannot choose to not be Muslims, that’s called apostasy and is punishable by death under hudud laws. I can understand the value of this law, especially given the context in which it originates. During the time of the Prophet, during the period when he was struggling against the treachery of Islam’s enemies in Mecca and Medina, it would have been convenient for an enemy to claim to be a Muslim to escape punishment or find succor and shelter, only to recant and revert to their original faith once in the clear. Certainly, this couldn’t be allowed, and the punishment had to provide a suitable deterrent.
But in modern times, it does seem that the locus for this law no longer exists; in many cases, criminals would want to deny their Islamicity in order to escape severe punishment! How times have changed. The problem is that the religious laws haven’t.
For Muslims who convert to Islam, you’ll find that very few cases of apostasy exist. The problem doesn’t lie there — these Muslims have either because of needs for marriage, or because they have studied the religion and love it and accept it, tend to be very loyal to the faith. They have a reason, often a very good one, to be a Muslim, and this gives their choice a sense of balance and purpose.
But, the majority of Muslims in the world today are Muslims by birth. By definition, this means that they were not given the choice of their religion, they were born Muslims, and told by their parents (and society), you are a Muslim, accept it.
Choice is an interesting thing. It only exists if you have options with the implication that you can choose one of several paths. But what choice does a born Muslim have except accept his religion or be executed for apostasy? That’s part of the problem. Most of us never chose to be Muslims, but that’s what we are. In this sense, it seems that our religion treats non-Muslims better than it treats us: at least the Quran forbids us to compel or force a Jew or a Christian to become a Muslim. But it forces all born Muslims to be Muslims.
This is all very relevant to the current case of the boy who was caned for bringing non-halal food to school. Was he a Muslim? His mother says no, but by virtue of his birth to an allegedly Muslim father, perhaps he doesn’t have a choice. Does the boy even know that he is a Muslim? For that matter, does the father?
For the teacher who caned him, and now our politicians who are debating his case, this is the mess that happens when you try to regulate religion. It’s alright to regulate the practice of the religion, the JAKIMs, the JAIS’ — but when you start to try to tell people what they are or what they should be without asking them first, or giving them a choice in the matter, then that’s little better than religious tyrannism.