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Sexual Abuse Claims Against Imam

CHICAGO (CN) - A Muslim scholar and Imam sexually assaulted three minor students and an adult employee of his Institute of Islamic Education in Elgin, Ill., the four women claim in court.

Three Jane Does claims that Muhammad Abdullah Saleem sexually assaulted them while they were his minor students at the school in the 1980s and 2000s. A fifth plaintiff, John Doe, claims that an adult male employee of the school sexually assaulted him when he was 11, in the 1990s.

Saleem has been arrested and was charged Tuesday with criminal sexual assault.

In their Feb. 17 lawsuit in Cook County Court, the plaintiffs say they came forward after learning of another alleged assault involving Saleem and a woman in her early twenties (Jane Doe 1) who worked for IIE as an administrative assistant from 2013 to 2014.

In the 49-page lawsuit, Jane Doe 1 claims that Saleem began coming into her office, shutting the door and touching her in a way that became more aggressive and sexual as time went on.

Doe 1 says she did not know what to do, as she was "taught to respect her elders and especially to show honor to such a respected scholar."

She says she was "horrified" in April 2014 when Saleem locked the door to her office and "proceeded to sexually assault her."

John Doe claims that after he was sexually assaulted by a bookkeeper or office manager, he had to "climb through the ceiling tiles of the locked office" to get to the only telephone available to students, and call his parents.

Saleem founded the school in 1989 in Elgin and, among other services, runs an alternative religious school teaching the Quran and Muslim faith to grades K-12. The school is not accredited, and as in home schooling, students must pass the GED exam after they finish, according to the complaint.

Students 10 to 18 board at the school, often all ages intermingled in the same rooms, and their only telephone is locked up at night, the complaint states.

When one of the minor Jane Does told a female teacher what Saleem had done, the teacher replied: "Saleem is an old man and old people do things like that, so just forget it," according to the lawsuit.

When John Doe's parents told the school why they were removing him from the school, neither Saleem nor any other school employee reported the assault to the state, the complaint states.

Jane Doe 1, the alleged adult victim, claims she had a conference with Saleem and a neutral mediator, in which Saleem "admitted verbally all allegations" and agreed to resign from his position and teach male students only. He has since been replaced as president of the school by his son, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs say: "IIE and Saleem both had a financial interest in not disclosing to authorities incidents of childhood sexual assault or workplace sexual assault of adult staff occurring at IEE, namely, such disclosure would put IIE at significant risk of losing large sums of money both from tuition payments and from donations, pledges, or other inflows of cash or cash equivalents."

The New York Times reported that the school posted a statement on its website - which has since been removed - that the accusations came from people "outside our community" who sought to discredit the school and its beliefs.

But lawsuit claims that there are "other childhood sexual assault victims, both males and females," from the school, molested either by Saleem or another adult staff member or older student.

The 37-count lawsuit seeks damages for sexual assault, childhood sexual assault, negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of duty and other charges.

The plaintiffs are represented by Steven Denny.

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