By Tausif Malik
Last few days have been tough on the Muslim community with instances of shootings of three Muslim students at White Chapel, in which the injured American Muslim child succumbed to his injuries; and the arson-styled burning of Houston based Quba Institute.
But the Muslim community in Illinois got a bigger shock with filing of case by a young female employee of the Islamic Institute of Education in Elgin, Illinois of accusing so called Islamic scholar of Indian origin Mohammed Abdullah Saleem. The issue was earlier written on a blog by local professor of Islamic Studies Omer Mozaffar about sexual abuse. The social media became a talking point, where community outraged anger, support etc. Earlier there was no police report filed, as Saleem had given a written apology, but not confessing the sexual abuse.
According to press release issued by Elgin Police states that “On December 4th, 2014, a 23 year old female reported to the Elgin Police Department that she was the victim of a criminal sexual abuse that occurred in April of 2014. The victim stated that the incident occurred at her former place of employment, the Institute of Islamic Education located at 1280 Bluff City Boulevard. The victim stated that the president of the Institute of Islamic Education, identified as 75 year old Mohammad Abdullah Saleem, of the 400 block of Jean Street, Gilberts, Illinois, committed an act of sexual conduct against her, while she was working at the Institute of Islamic Education”.
The press release further stated that “Detectives from the Elgin Police Department’s Major Investigations Division began investigating the case, speaking to multiple subjects. After an extensive investigation, Mohammad Abdullah Saleem was taken into custody on February 15th without incident. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office was then contacted and after a review of the facts of the case, approved the following charge against Mohammad Abdullah Saleem: Criminal Sexual Abuse, a Class 4 Felony. Mohammad Abdullah Saleem will appear in Cook County Bond Call this morning at 2121 Euclid Avenue, Rolling Meadows”.
According to the press release issued at the press conference organized on behalf of the victims by Safety for Survivors (promoted by Heart Women and Girls).
Key people who have worked on this case include Omer M. Mozaffar, Chaplain/Theology Faculty, Loyola University Chicago; Eman Hassaballa, Licensed Social Worker; HEART Women & Girls, a sexual health education and advocacy organization; Nadiah Mohajir, MPH, co-founder & Executive Director, HEART Women & Girls; Jenan Mohajir, founding Board Member, HEART Women & Girls; Samar Kaukab, Board Member, HEART Women & Girls; and Steven Denny, Law office of Steven Denny.
How the allegations surfaced
Jane Doe 1, an administrative assistant at IIE from the fall of 2012 until the spring of 2014, came forward to Eman Hassaballa Aly with allegations of sexual abuse against Abdullah Saleem on three separate occasions while she was working at IIE.
Omer Mozaffar, who had been informed about the situation as a community leader, arranged a meeting in November 2014 between Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 1’s mother, and Saleem. At this meeting, Saleem confessed to having had interactions of a sexual nature with Jane Doe 1 and reluctantly apologized to Jane Doe 1 and her mother for his actions.
Jane Doe 1 filed a police report about the alleged sexual abuse in December 2014 following the meeting with Saleem. In December 2014, Saleem and IIE leadership began publicly stating that the confession from Saleem had been coerced and that the allegations were not true. In response to these denials, Mozaffar posted a blog post stating that Saleem’s confession had not been coerced.
HEART Women & Girls, an organization with expertise in raising awareness about sexual violence, was consulted to assist with strategy development and survivor support. In response to the serious nature of the allegations, a team of volunteers working on community strategy identified legal representation for Jane Doe 1 and other potential victims.
Coordinating together, the above-mentioned team developed strategies for other victims to safely come forward. In addition to social media efforts, Mozaffar posted another community blog post requesting other survivors to come forward while assuring that their safety and privacy would be retained.
Within 72 hours, a number of survivors reached out using the provided communication methods. The team has been actively working with the survivors to connect them to the necessary legal, social and emotional resources. Additionally, the team has been working constructively with law enforcement to pursue remedies for the victims as well.
According to the law suit file:
23-year-old Victim #1 Whenever Mohammad Abdullah Saleem, came into her office would want her to remove her veil, he would sometimes touch her cheek or put an arm around her shoulder. On April 14, 2014 Saleem asked Joe Doe#1 to massage his feet and legs, later he got aggressive caressed her and wanted her to sit on his lap. She refused but forcefully he made her sit on his lap, sexually assaulted her and ejaculated. She saw sticky substance on her clothing and on chair and took pictures.
According to New York Times report, two other women in their 40s saw the blog and informed advocates that Saleem had abused them in the early 1980s. One woman said that Saleem began touching her when she was 12. Once, she said, he sat on a bed, covered in a brown blanket, and put her hand on his genitals while he taught her a chapter of the Quran called al-Qari’a, The second woman said that, when she was in sixth grade, Saleem kissed her and touched her, remarking, “You’re really growing up.”
Victim #2,#3,#4 were minors when they were studying at IIE and they were sexually assaulted.
Victim#4 is a male, who sexually assaulted by while he was student at IIE by a male staff of IIE.
This episode is not new according press release released by Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) “Allegations of sexual misconduct were corroborated by two other individuals who were independent of Br. Mozaffar. They also reported of other earlier incidents of similar nature, the details of which were not provided”.
The community felt that if there were earlier similar incidents, why did’nt the management or CIOGC take actions. They felt accountability and fiefdom nature of founders of institutions keeps the issues under the carpet, there should be check and balances to eliminate these challenges.
Saleem’s bond was set at $250,000 and he was ordered to have no contact with the alleged victim, any members of her family or anyone under the age. The next hearing is March 2015.
After hearing about posting of bond Mohammed Khan, community member said, “Please make sure that they are not using community donation for $1.5 million. As per 5 news channels they sued him for $1,500,000. Can a principal of school have this much money? If NO. From where they are going to compensate the victims? Is this school has this much money? If YES? From where? Whose money? Any secret donation coming to this school? From foreign countries? Why? Because they are spreading IISLAM? Or something in the name of ISLAM? Please innocent Muslims. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to save Islam and innocent Muslims. See, these so called scholars are using us. These islamic people on the name of Quran and Hadees taking our money, our izzath, our aqeedah, our imaan. Open your eyes and educate others to stay away from these traps. It’s time to wake up. If we don’t wake up now, when are we going to wake up? Please spread the word and find out where he has this much money from?”
This news spread like wild fire across the social media. This writer contacted several community leaders and individuals based in the United States and sought their views over this ugly incident.
Moon Khan, Founding President of Minority Leadership Alliance (MLA) and former York Township Trustee, said: “The incident in Elgin is simply a tip of the iceberg of the American Muslim organizations that are mostly operated by self-proclaimed “serving God” slumdog millionaires, who feel and act like sacrosanct and above the faith laws. Although they proclaim and display monopoly over moralities, behind the scene, they engage in morbid jealousy, extensive hatred, and ferocious competitions. A lot of religious community leaders have consistently and shrewdly tried to hide the issue and protect the image of the controversial maulana.”
Mr. Khan suggested that Muslims should demand complete transparency from leaders of the religious organizations; nobody should donate or support an institution where the family members of the leaders of a mosque are, in any capacity, employed; the name and the salary of the administrators and staff should be posted on the website and on the notice board of the institution; a term limit should be executed for board presidents, an annual auditing should be conducted by a certified CPA, and a mobile hotline should be maintained where people can call anonymously and express their views about the activities of an institution and all recorded messages should be shared with the governing committee members”.
However the situation demonstrates very highly the need for robust accountability, transparency and fully checking the background of each individual in religious service. “We need to fully legally investigate such issues rigour, sensitivity and provide the necessary support to the victims. But we as the community are not wholly blameless. This is because we have used our religious institutions as places that are not open to constructive criticism or external examination. This is creating environments open to exploitation by the unscrupulous. Some extreme scenarios could even say that some parents use it as a dumping ground for our children and our social problems. This is without fully supporting the institutions infrastructure not helping the faith leaders with the skills and competencies required to undertake these roles. Therefore making them I’ll-equipped leaders with little ability to make sustainable and credible moral impact in society,” said Mr. Khan.
Moin Khan further remarked that the best of imams would have both a vocation and career which can make then financially sufficient beyond the religious theology, clean safeguarding/police records, and would be fully accountable in front of both their masjid attendees and the wider society. That is a tall ask but unless we recognize that resolving their their weaknesses is part of our role too, it cannot ever go past blaming the imams to a worthwhile place.
Ms. Saeeda Ahmed, Director at Education Partnerships UK, said: “Being Muslim is a strength, and acknowledging this empowers us. Being a Muslim woman, I and my fellow Muslimahs are proud of the protection and empowerment our faith Islam provides us. However, often we let the society and culture tell us that expressing our self will take us out of the realm of Islam and allow people to judge our morality. This man Saleem, who I refuse to refer to as an Imam, not only sexually harassed but also took away the voice of girls and young woman using our very own faith. Hushing our daughters and young girls allowed him to continue his disgusting transgression. I, being an educator and an active member of an Islamic community fear for my fellow young Muslimahs who might not have the courage to express what they might be enduring.”
“It is essential that we provide a comfortable and a protected environment to especially our young Muslim generation so that they can confidentially unburden themselves to any misfortune they might have experienced and avoid an offender to further torment our fellow Muslims,” concluded Ms. Saeeda Ahmed.
[Tausif Malik is based in Chicago, USA. He is the Contributing Editor of India’s First Online Muslim Newspaper “IndianMuslimObserver.com”. He is Founder of Muslim Spelling Bee (www.muslimspellingbee.com). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]