Monday, February 16, 2015

Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Imam Stir Rifts in Insular Ilinois Community

NY Times    She ordinarily did not wear a veil. But it was required at the Islamic school where she worked, and she remembers being surprised when the head of the school, a conservative imam, suggested that she remove it.

When the imam, Mohammad Abdullah Saleem, came into her office, she said, he would sometimes touch her cheek or put an arm around her shoulder. Mr. Saleem was revered in her close-knit community, and she did not object at first. But simply being alone together represented a forbidden intimacy, and looking back, she said those first gestures should have been more alarming.

“It’s not something that gets done,” the 23-year-old woman said recently. “Men and women don’t even shake hands.”

Over time, she said the touching became more aggressive, reaching a point that she did something almost unheard-of in her community. She told people: her family, a social worker, an Islamic scholar. Recently, she went to the police. As word spread of what she had told them, three other women came forward, telling detectives that as young girls they had been molested by Mr. Saleem.[...]

Abuse allegations against Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis have brought similar anguish to insular communities suddenly exposed to outsiders, in a crisis. But the Chicago case comes with added baggage in a community where discussion of sex is taboo and many girls are forbidden to attend school health classes. Dating is uncommon or secretive, many marriages are arranged, and a blemish on a young woman’s reputation can render her unmarriageable.

The accusations are particularly jarring because of Mr. Saleem’s stature. “In the South Asian community, he is like Billy Graham. He’s the archbishop of Chicago,” said Omer Mozaffar, an Islamic scholar who serves as the Muslim chaplain at Loyola University Chicago and who acted as a mediator between Mr. Saleem and his first accuser last year.

Mr. Saleem said in a brief phone interview that his accusers “are lying.” He referred questions to his lawyer, Thomas T. Glasgow, who said that after an internal investigation by the school, “I have not seen any evidence to substantiate anything.” [...]

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