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A Tale of the Usual and the Unusual

Mar 23, 2015 — Categories: , ,

The story of Mohammad Abdullah Saleem of Elgin, IL, is not unlike that of a Catholic priest, a Protestant pastor, a Jewish rabbi, or a Buddhist teacher who has sexually molested a faithful follower. Over the past 30 years, we have heard from many survivors of abuse by a faith leader in all of these groups, but few Muslim survivors. It has simply been harder to break the silence in the Muslim community where any discussion of anything sexual remains largely taboo.

The story of Mohammad Abdullah Saleem of Elgin, IL, is not unlike that of a Catholic priest, a Protestant pastor, a Jewish rabbi, or a Buddhist teacher who has sexually molested a faithful follower. Over the past 30 years, we have heard from many survivors of abuse by a faith leader in all of these groups, but few Muslim survivors. It has simply been harder to break the silence in the Muslim community where any discussion of anything sexual remains largely taboo.

Mr. Saleem was highly regarded in the south Asian Muslim community surrounding Chicago. “…he is like Billy Graham.” After he immigrated in the 1970s, he founded the Institute of Islamic Education in 1989 which has been the center of the immigrant community and provided religious education for the children. The young woman who finally came forward had worked as a secretary to Mr. Saleem. After he molested her, she quit her job; but she wanted an admission and an apology. With the help of Omer Mozaffar, an Islamic scholar and chaplain at Loyola University Chicago, the survivor confronted Saleem and got an apology and an acknowledgement of “his actions.” As word spread through the community, three more women, adult survivors of childhood molestation by Saleem, have now come forward.

Mr. Mozaffar has taken a lot of heat for advocating for the woman survivor. Community members have criticized him: “’Dear brothers and sisters this matter does not concern you. Regardless if the allegations are true or false he is a much better Muslim than all of us.  Please stop spreading information regarding him. He has reached a very old age. You should be instead focusing on how you can spend more time in his presence.” It is indeed déjà vu all over again and again.

So here’s the excellent news. In response to these disclosures of abuse by Saleem, Muslim leaders from across the country organized and responded. Their response is clear and unambiguous, explaining why this misconduct is antithetical to Islam, and urging appropriate responses to victims/survivors. A hotline is in place for them to contact: http://www.safetyforsurvivors.com/

There is nothing terribly unusual about this tale of a faith leader who betrayed the trust of his followers, in this case an Imam. We could all tell this story in our own faith communities: a revered leader with many followers who betrays their trust and undermines their faith. What is delightfully unusual about this tale is the pro-active response from significant national and local leaders in the Muslim community. In fact, I have to say that in all the years of my work on these issues, I do not recall any similar response from any other faith group. This is an excellent model for all of us to consider.

 

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.FaithTrustInstitute.org
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Pro-active response from Muslim leaders

Posted by Alsah Bundi at Mar 23, 2015 04:34 PM
Tears came to my eyes as read the response of the Leaders of the Muslim community in the United states. This is the response I hoped for from every faith community in violation of their sacred trust.
Thank you, Dr. Fortune, for your part in bringing this to public attention.

Something to pass along to the Islamic community

Posted by Dee Miller at Mar 24, 2015 11:10 AM
I just sent this to an Islamic leader in my community, asking that he send the link to others. I want it to be a gesture of appreciation, as well as encouragement to continue leading the way. Lord, how we need these exceptional stories!

Support for Chaplain Mozaffar

Posted by Elaine Shaw, OP at Mar 24, 2015 11:10 AM
Thank you, Marie, for sharing this "making justice" story. I am edified that Chaplain Mozaffar, chaplain/scholar from Loyola, Chicago, my alma mater, accompanied a brave woman survivor to pursue justice from Imam Saleem.
It is indeed marvelous to learn the that the national Muslim community leaders support Chaplain Mozaffar. You are right that here is an example of how faith communities can model to all of us.
Peace,
Elaine Shaw-Cote, OP