WASHINGTON, DC: A popular and highly revered Imam of the South Asian community in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, known as the ‘Billy Graham’ of the community, Mohammad Abdullah Saleem, 75, has been accused by a 23-year-old Indian American woman of forcibly sexually molesting her, and has been charged in a lawsuit against him brought by her.
Three other women have also since stepped forward to the police to claim that the Imam molested them when they were children, reported The New York Times.
The Times interviewed the victim as well as the Imam, and a mediator who had tried to patch up matters between the two, local Islamic scholar Omer Mozaffar. The Imam had eventually rendered an written apology to the unidentified Indian American woman.
Saleem founded the Institute of Islamic Education, in Elgin, Illinois, in 1989. He was a student of the Deobandi school, a movement originating in India that espouses a fundamentalist version of Islam. He used to teach students to memorize the Quran “in accordance with the Islamic values and traditions of the earlier periods of Islam,” according to its bylaws. It has grown into one of the country’s most prominent schools of its kind and one of the few in which the students, typically ages 10 to 17, are boarded for several years. Subjects like math and English are offered, but primarily through computer programs and never at the expense of Quran studies. The school is not recognized by the state and does not award accredited diplomas, the Times report said.
According to the victim, who was born in the US, graduated from an American university and working at the Institute to get some experience, the Imam had slowly become more aggressive in making sexual advances over a period of some months. He had asked her to remove her veil, would touch her inappropriately. But finally, he did something unpardonable, which led her to ultimately approach the police.
While she was making copies in April of last year, the Times report said, Saleem pulled her onto his lap and held her there, lifting her dress as he groped her. “I just looked at the wall or the ceiling and just kept saying, ‘This is very uncomfortable,’ ” she said. After he left, she said, she found something sticky on the black pants she wore beneath her dress.
She confided in her cousin, her mother and a social worker, Mozaffar, and later the police. She quit her job at the Institute.
Two other women, in their 40s, saw it and told advocates that Saleem had abused them in the early 1980s, when he was teaching from his bedroom, the Times reported. One woman said 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, about the Day of Judgment when people will be held to account for their good and evil deeds.
“The Quran is right on top of us and he is doing this,” she said. “What disrespect he had in front of the Quran.”
A second woman said that, when she was in sixth grade, Saleem kissed her and touched her, remarking, “You’re really growing up.”
The police are now investigating the charges. A lawsuit will soon be brought against the Imam by the women.