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Scholar at Islamic Institute in Elgin charged with sexual abuse

Like some followers of her faith, the devout young woman wore a veil hiding all but her eyes.

But when she began working for Abdullah Saleem, a nationally renowned Muslim scholar, at his Elgin school in late 2013, he told her to remove the Muslim niqab in his presence.

Saleem went much further, though, Cook County prosecutors allege. On repeated occasions, he entered the woman’s office, locked the door and proceeded to grope and fondle her, prosecutors said.

In April 2014, the woman quit her job at the Islamic Institute of Education. She went to the authorities in December after other victims came forward, prosecutors said.

The balding scholar — wearing a long, white beard — appeared in bond court Tuesday in Rolling Meadows, where he was ordered held in lieu of $250,000 bail. He was released later in the day after posting bond.

Saleem, 75, was charged with aggravated battery and criminal sexual abuse, both felonies. His attorney, Thomas Glasgow, did not respond to requests for comment.

The 22-year-old office worker was hardly Saleem’s first victim, according to a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday. The suit filed Tuesday was brought by that woman and three former female students of the institute — now all adults — who allege they were similarly abused by Saleem as children.

A fifth victim, a man, said he was abused when he was 11 by a man who was an office worker at the school, according to the suit.

One of the female victims alleges that she reported an assault to a woman who taught at the school.

The teacher responded by saying Saleem was an “old man.” “Old people do things like that, so just forget it,” the teacher said, according to the suit.

The underage victims all claim they stayed overnight at the school during the week, often with no supervision. A telephone locked inside an office was the only way students could contact their family at night.

The 11-year-old male victim alleged that he had to climb through the school’s ceiling tiles to get to the office phone after one incidence of abuse, the suit states. His mother removed him from the school the following day.

In total, the abuse spanned four decades, according to Steven Denny, an attorney representing the alleged victims in the case.

The allegations sent shockwaves through the local Muslim community. For some conservative believers, even a public handshake between the sexes is taboo.

“I guess this morning we found out . . . that Muslims are burdened with the same [burdens] that other faith people are burdened with,” said Mohammed Kaiseruddin, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, speaking to reporters at a news conference downtown.

Kaiseruddin said his organization has taken “strong, bold steps” to prevent future abuse, including holding a meeting with administrators from Chicago’s 12 area Muslim schools to review their abuse policies.

The Institute of Islamic Education was founded in 1989 and offers a variety of services, according to its website, including religious and secular education for pre-college age students.

Asked Tuesday how abuse might have gone undetected at the institute for four decades, Kaiseruddin said he couldn’t say for sure.

“If you look at the bylaws for the I.I.E, you might get some clues,” he said. “Those bylaws give total power to the founder/president of the institution.”

None of the alleged victims spoke at Tuesday’s news conference, but some of their statements were read aloud to reporters.

“For too long, our community has been silent on the issue of sexual abuse,” wrote the 22-year-old victim in the criminal case charged this week. “I will no longer stay silent.”