By SAM RAPPAPORT
Attorney Steven Denny and Muslim community leaders held a press conference in Hyde Park, Thursday afternoon, to address the second set of criminal charges of sexual abuse recently leveled against Abdullah Saleem, former president of the Institute of Islamic Education (IIE) in Elgin, Ill.
Denny currently represents the four women and one man who are accusing Saleem of sexual assault. Jane Doe 2, the most recent woman to accuse Saleem of sexual misconduct, was 14-years-old and a student at IIE when the alleged crimes were committed.
Thursday’s press conference took place at the Chicago Theological Seminary, 1407 E. 60th St., and included statements from Denny and Nadiah Mohajir, the executive director of HEART Women & Girls, an organization seeking to promote the reproductive health and mental wellbeing of faith-based communities, and Dr. Mohammed Kaiseruddin, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.
“As a mother and member of the Muslim community,” Mohajir said. “I am devastated to be standing here as these allegations are leveled.”
In February 2015, Saleem was arrested and charged with criminal sexual abuse and aggravated battery. The charges stemmed from allegations that, in April 2014, Saleem forced a 23-year-old woman who worked for IIE, Jane Doe 1, to sit on his lap as he inappropriately fondled her.
On Wednesday, Oct. 7, in response to recent allegations from another woman, Jane Doe 2, Saleem turned himself in at the Elgin police station, where he was charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a minor. The allegations assert that Saleem sexually assaulted Jane Doe 2, an ex-student of Saleem’s, dozens of times between 2001 and 2003.
At the press conference, Denny stated that the courage of Jane Doe 1 to bring charges against her offender paved the road for others to follow suit.
Still, Mohajir declared that a vast amount of victim-blaming surrounds those who have accused Saleem of abuse.
“Blaming and shaming leads to the silence of survivors and contributes to a culture of abuse,” Mohajir said.
Kaiseruddin outlined a program that the Council of Islamic Organizations has created to combat sexual abuse. Part of the program is dedicated to training imams on how to recognize and react to instances of sexual abuse.
Kaiseruddin also responded to those who have claimed that Islam is at fault for encouraging sexual assault.
“The people who are asking ‘does Islam’s teachings lead to this?’ are haters of Islam,” Kaiseruddin said. “There are no religious institutions that will condone this behavior. Islam is no exception.”
Denny said that because of Saleem’s authority over IIE, which is a boarding school, it was ripe for the sexual abuse of children. However, Denny ended the press conference by saying that for 28 years he has represented the victims of sexual abuse and that this is the first instance he’s seen such accusations leveled against a Muslim institution.