Muslim Scholar Charged With Sexual Assault

Mohammed Abdullah Saleem founded the Institute of Islamic Education in Elgin in 1989

A prominent Chicago area religious leader is facing allegations of sexual assault.

Mohammed Abdullah Saleem, 75, was arrested Sunday and subsequently charged with sexually abusing a former employee. He was scheduled to appear in bond court Tuesday morning in Rolling Meadows.

A civil suit against Saleem was filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court.

Saleem founded the Institute of Islamic Education in Elgin in 1989. Thousands of students, many from Indian and Pakistani Muslim immigrant families, have attended the conservative Islamic boarding school.

"This person is a great religious scholar. A lot of people benefitted from his knowledge and now it's coming out that he abused people," said Dr Mohammed Kaiseruddin, Chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

Kaiserruddin told NBC 5 Investigates that the council has known for months of the sexual abuse allegations against the community's most esteemed Imam. Word spread around the Chicago Muslim community in December that a 23-year-old female staff member had accused Saleem of sexual abuse and harassment.

"We actually saw a blog on Facebook from one of the scholars in the community," said Kaiseruddin.

The council opened an investigation into the allegations shortly after.

"It's very clear the institute did not want this thing made public," Kaiseruddin added.

That blog post was the result of a meeting between one victims and Loyola University Chaplin Omer Mozaffar. Mozaffar posted the victim's story and attempted to mediate the parties on his personal blog. His blog post caught the attention and ignited the Muslim community in Chicago.

Chicago attorney Steven Denny is representing five victims in the civil suit that accuses Saleem of decades of assault and child sex abuse.

"These issues go back to the 80s. In the 80s, two of my clients, Jane Doe 3 and 4, were both sexually molested by Saleem," said Denny.

The lawsuit details how Saleem allegedly sexually abused three young girls and a 23-year-old staff member at the school. Denny also said there’s a fifth victim who was allegedly abused by another staff member when the boy was 11-years-old.

"I’m just really shocked and devastated," said Nadiah Mohajir executive director of the Heart Women and Girls Project, who is working with the alleged victims. "It’s a huge violation of your emotional and physical safety and when you compound that with the shame and the stigma that’s associated with sexual shame in the Muslim community and when you compound that further with trying to stand up to such a reverend and respected religious authority, it’s extremely challenging."

Elgin police confirmed that they are investigating the claims of sexual abuse at the school. The Institute of Islamic Education did not return NBC Chicago's calls or email. Saleem’s attorney declined to comment.

A New York Times article posted February 14th reported that Saleen denied the allegations during a brief phone call and that the school briefly posted a statement on their website attributing the accusations to "individuals outside our community" that want to discredit the school's beliefs.

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