Malay community leader and SingFirst candidate discovers he was born a Chinese

Malay community leader and SingFirst candidate discovers he was born a Chinese
PHOTO: The New Paper

All his life, he thought he was the only child of his loving Malay parents.

Even though everyone he met has assumed he is Chinese because he is fair-skinned, Mr Fahmi Rais never gave it much thought.

This was until about two weeks ago, when a casual question posed to his 90-year-old grandmother during a monthly visit revealed a shocking, long-kept family secret.

Mr Fahmi found out he had been adopted and that his biological parents are Chinese.

The 47-year-old media consultant said: "I told her that people have been asking me for many years if I was adopted.

"I expected her to tell me that I was being ridiculous. But when her expression changed and she was silent for a few seconds, I just knew it."

Mr Fahmi, a Malay community leader who was a SingFirst candidate in this year's General Election, was so overwhelmed by the sudden revelation that he started crying.

His grandmother, who was also reduced to tears, told him that his parents were a poor Chinese couple who lived in Segamat, Johor.

She had no other details of his adoption - neither names nor the amount of money exchanged, if any.

Already feeling lost, Mr Fahmi was crushed when he realised that his relatives had known about the adoption but hid it from him.

His adoptive parents died more than 20 years ago, both from heart attacks.

His maternal grandmother is his only surviving grandparent.

He said: "Maybe my parents wanted to tell me one day, but never had the chance."

For the past two weeks, Mr Fahmi, a father of four children aged between six and 19, has been determinedly searching for his biological family.

He wrote to The New Paper, hoping that by sharing his story, he would find them.

His parents had managed to keep details of his adoption a mystery, even to his relatives.

Mr Fahmi's most credible lead is his birth certificate, which was issued 10 years after he was born.

The names of his birth parents are not on the certificate, but there is one clue.

It lists Kandang Kerbau Hospital (now known as KK Women's and Children's Hospital) as his place of birth.

When he approached the hospital last week, he was told that there are no records of his birth and he was directed to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

They, too, told him they had no further information and asked him to approach the family court.

He is now waiting for the adoption registry, located at the MND Complex, to check if there are records of his adoption, but he has not heard from them yet.

Only child?

Growing up as an only child, Mr Fahmi said the possibility of having siblings has been the greatest motivation for his search.

He believes his parents had many children and were forced to give a child away because of poverty.

"The thought that my sister could be sitting next to me at a foodcourt, or that my brother could be one of my friends on Facebook (without realising it), has been unbearable," he said.

Mr Fahmi's wife, Madam Sulaimah Abdul Kadir, 40, a consultant, was also there during Mr Fahmi's conversation with his grandmother.

She said she is moved by his sadness since he found out the truth about his adoption.

"As a wife, I'll support him in his search. But no matter what happens, we still love him for who he is," she said.

Mr Fahmi insists he is not overreacting and that he just hopes to find closure.

The couple have an adopted daughter, Nur Natasya, 16, and Mr Fahmi admitted that he does blame his parents a little for withholding the truth from him.

He said: "My wife and I never hid the fact from our daughter that she was adopted. It was my policy of love, I don't think adoption should be a secret.

"I wish my parents had the same level of transparency, but this does not reduce my love for them.

"I was a late bloomer and only passed one subject at O levels. I disappointed them many times when I was younger, but they loved me all the same."


Mr Fahmi Rais was a community and youth activist and has held leadership positions in several Malay organisations, including Majlis Pusat and Yayasan Mendaki.

But he is concerned that people would now look at him in a different light after his Chinese ethnicity has come to light.

He said: "In one night, I changed from one race to another. I feel like I've lost my bearings - should I continue serving in the Malay community or should I spend my time searching for my Chinese roots?"

MP Zaqy Mohamad, who has spoken on issues about the Malay community, thinks that the community would not consider Mr Fahmi an outsider simply because of this discovery.

"After all, he was raised under the identity of a Malay and spent many years in the community," he said.


National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said ethnic identity is a "matter of socialisation".

He explained: "It has nothing to do with skin colour or other so-called racial features.

"A person who is told that he is 'racially' a Chinese would probably not take on the Chinese identity and culture unless he seeks to be so for whatever reasons and/or if significant others treat him as Chinese.

"People can also have multiple identities."

According to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, a Singaporean is allowed to change his race twice - once before the age of 21 and once at or after the age of 21.

Those aged 21 years and above will be required to execute a statutory declaration stating the reason for changing their race and affirming that they will not change their race again.

This article was first published on November 27, 2015.
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