Muslim community shocked at sexual assault charges against Elgin imam

Flanked by supporters Mohammad Abdullah Saleem, the founder of the Islamic Institute of Education boarding school, leaves the Circuit Court of Cook County on Feb. 17.

CHICAGO (TIP): Four women have accused a prominent former imam and head of an Islamic school in Elgin of sexual abuse over four decades — three of them saying it happened when they were barely teenagers.

For now, Mohammad Abdullah Saleem is accused criminally of sexually assaulting one of them, a 23-year-old former secretary at the Institute of Islamic Education school. Charges that other sexual abuse occurred for decades, mostly by Saleem, were leveled in a lawsuit filed Tuesday, February 17, against him and the school.

The scandal has devastated the Chicago and suburban Muslim communities, where the accusations have been widely known since December.

“It is a big blow,” said Mohammed Kaiseruddin, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. “If he committed these crimes, then he has got to be held accountable for it.”

Saleem, of the 400 block of Jean Street in Gilberts, has been charged with aggravated battery and criminal sexual abuse. The 75-year-old cleric posted 10 percent of the
$250,000 bail set by a judge.

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If convicted, he faces a penalty ranging from probation to five years in prison. He has no criminal background, prosecutors said.

The charges stem from a more than two-month investigation by Elgin police of Saleem, who founded the Institute of Islamic Education school, 1280 Bluff City Blvd., established in 1989.

Prosecutors detailed numerous instances of sexual abuse beginning in October 2013, a month after the woman started working at the school. They gradually escalated from a kiss on the cheek to touching, hugs and forcible contact, they said.

On April 14, 2014, Saleem forced the secretary onto his lap, touched her and restrained her when she tried to get away, assistant state’s attorney Maria McCarthy said. The woman later discovered semen on her clothes, which she photographed, McCarthy said.

Two days later, after informing relatives of what happened, the woman quit, prosecutors said.

Also, prosecutors said, during a Nov. 18 meeting between the school’s board and the woman, her mother and Saleem, he admitted what he had done and signed a document to that effect. Afterward, several others came forward with accusations, and the woman filed a complaint with Elgin police on Dec. 4, 2014.

Defense attorney Thomas Glasgow said his client denies the allegations.

“He is not running from this investigation. He has never hidden himself,” Glasgow said of Saleem, who retired from the Institute last year.

On Tuesday, four women and one man filed the lawsuit, alleging sexual abuses dating as far back as the early 1980s.

Their attorney, Steven Denny, said it was the 23-year-old’s decision to step forward that emboldened others. “Without her courage, it is most likely that nobody else would ever have been bold enough to come forward,” he said.

The other female victims say they were abused as minors during the 1980s and 1990s. A man also is alleging he was abused as an 11-year-old by another school employee.

“Saleem took advantage of his position of power and authority. This place was ripe for abuse of children and that’s what happened, and IIE covered it up,” Denny said at a news conference in Chicago, adding that he expects more victims to come forward.

Denny called on the leaders of the school to establish a fund to compensate the victims.

Glasgow, who represents the Islamic Institute of Education, would not comment on the lawsuit. He said the mosque board is concluding its own internal investigation into the allegations.

“We have completed six weeks’ worth of investigation on this,” he said. “We’ve interviewed many people. I haven’t seen anything that would give rise to credibility of the allegations.”

Glasgow stressed there have been no claims of abuse made against any of the current board members or management of the mosque and school.

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