Ahmad Saleem – a paedophile – and the tarnished image of Islam in the US

When Saleem arrived at the arranged house looking to have sex with a 12-year- old, what he found instead was a cop.

Aalia Suleman June 08, 2015
This week, American Muslims find themselves holding their heads and groaning over the new wave of sneering and jeering coming their way again. The tidal wave was set in motion last week with the arrest of Ahmad Saleem in Florida in a sting operation that busted a major child sex ring.

Saleem was one of the 100 men arrested in attempting to have sex with girls between the ages of 12 and 14. Police officers in Lake and Polk counties in Florida posed as young girls on chat forums to lure in these predators. When Saleem arrived at the arranged house looking to have sex with a 12-year- old, what he found instead was a detective.

What’s horrifying about Saleem is that his long list of credentials include being a former employee of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim youth coordinator not only very well known in the Florida area but also in other states, and the founder of Saleem Academy that focused, most ironically, on the empowerment of Muslim youth. CAIR is the foremost Muslim civil liberties advocacy organisation headquartered in Washington DC with state offices throughout the country and significant impact both within the US and internationally.

The plates on Saleem’s car read “Invest in children”. Though only 22, Saleem had built repute for himself across the country by networking extensively with Muslim community leaders in other states through major Islamic forums such as the Muslim Student Associations (MSA) at colleges and universities, Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), conferences, and interfaith meetings focusing on youth development.

At present, CAIR, most vocal as an ‘organisation that challenges stereotypes of Islam and Muslims’ working on civil liberties anti-defamation cases, finds itself in hot water over the association of an active young community leader in a scandal as perilous as paedophilia. Prior to the arrest, the CAIR website had nothing but glowing words for Saleem that covered nearly an entire page. A paragraph reads,
“Ahmad Saleem is an active community organiser in Orlando, Florida. He is responsible for spreading CAIR Florida’s impact and presence in the Orlando community which includes serving and protecting the civil rights of the community as well as maintaining healthy relationships with other Muslim organisations, non-profit organisations, government entities, and the media. He is the son of Pakistani immigrants. His father, a paediatrician, and his mother, a school teacher, instilled in Ahmad the joy of caring for others and serving them wholeheartedly with love and dedication.”

However, following the arrest, as expected, CAIR immediately removed all mention of Saleem from its website. The Florida CAIR office also issued a general statement stating,
“CAIR Florida is shocked and deeply concerned by the serious crimes Ahmad Saleem is alleged to have committed. We trust in the legal system to hold to full account any and all persons found guilty. CAIR Florida takes the safety and security of the community very seriously and as such we attempt to thoroughly vet any potential employment candidates through standard hiring practices.”

The paedophilia displayed by Saleem is defined as a sustained sexual attraction for children 13 years of age or younger. Despite the reprehensive nature of the crime, paedophilia is classified as a mental disorder according to the American Psychiatric Association. However, although this bars the sentencing from being as strict as many people would like to believe, paedophilia in itself is considered among the most stigmatised of mental disorders. The negative societal attitude towards paedophiles works as a double-edged sword where it not only affects child abuse prevention but also discourages paedophiles from seeking help.

Studies show that societal attitudes towards paedophilia rank it as being more morally deplorable than even homicide. Although paedophiles may get off with less of a punishment than the greater number of population would like, the absolute and irrevocable societal and personal disgrace and condemnation faced by those caught in the act are worse than a double life sentence.

Saleem threw all caution to the wind in behaving in this manner and vilified not only his own reputation but the name of Islam in the process. Since Saleem’s arrest, the parents of the children with whom he had been in contact at the camps he had organised or the youth groups he ran are starting to get concerned over the exact nature of his behaviour and for how long it had gone undetected. In addition to this, there is a violent spew of derogatory and near blasphemous articles on Islam on the web. All articles invariably bring in and taunt Islam, Muslims and the names of CAIR and the other organisations with whom Saleem had been associated even remotely.

Needless to say, given the image of the ‘perfect Muslim’ that he portrayed with his appearance, words and actions, Saleem has managed to garner an unprecedented level of notoriety for all Muslims with his reckless behaviour. Even if paedophilia is his sickness, it is a pity he did not seek help given the fact that he is the son of a paediatrician and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology himself.

On a personal note, paedophilia may be classified as a mental disorder but given the nature of its violent repercussions on society, it needs to be treated as a very, very serious crime rather than just a disorder.
Aalia Suleman A freelance writer and poet who is keenly interested in the status of women in 21st century Pakistan. Her writing also zones in on Pakistan's new social and political status on a redefined global chessboard. She has a masters degree in English Literature and blogs and invites debates at 'Socio-politically Pakistani'. She tweets @aaliasuleman (https://twitter.com/aaliasuleman)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Samia | 6 years ago | Reply I went to the same university as Ahmad Saleem and was active in the MSA while he was its president. In fact, there was many a time when I volunteered at the Dawah table and he was also there. He knew me by name and we talked occasionally. I never got the impression that he was anything but a good role model for the Muslim youth. When this news got out, I was in shock for days, torn between wondering if this was someone framing him (it wouldn't be the first time, and he'd be an ideal target), and anger at how he would tarnish the image of Islam in this way.
floridian | 6 years ago | Reply I know Ahmad Saleem when he was in university of central Florida and I know that he can never be a paedophile. I am no conspiracy theorist but this for sure is a simple case of entrapment by the authorities. It was his fast growing influence in the community that brought this about. Just look at the piecemeal information that we have been given. All we know is that he was talking to someone who was pretending to be under 18. Since when did taking via text or email make you culpable? And all he did was just ARRIVE at the destination to meet this person. How is that equal to attempting to have sex?? If I come to visit you tomorrow, does that mean I was attempting to have sex you?? Utter nonsense. What kind of an evidential requirement is that? Note - we have not been told or shown what kind of an exchange took place between Ahmad and the undercover person. For him to be branded as a child abuser - they ought to putout the evidence (content of texts and emails) for us to see right? Secondly, how does simply being at one place at a given time - without even seeing the individual you were supposedly thinking of having sex with - make you a criminal? It just doesn't make sense at all. Having studied criminal law - there has to be an act accompanied by an intention and I can clearly see that there is no such evidence present. Don't you think he could've gone there to talk to this supposedly distressed individual out of doing anything wrong? I mean there are a number of possible intentions that he could've had when he arrived at that location and none can be proven unless you have the required act as well. Furthermore, he hasn't even been tried or convicted yet, so how can anyone make the judgement and brand him a paedophile straight away? That's the sad part about human beings. Even if Ahmad is let off and the court decide that he isn't a child abuser - his reputation has still been tarnished forever. Whether he is convicted or not, the purpose had been achieved and that was to stop his communal activities. I feel extremely sorry for Ahmad. And I must say, I am quite disappointed with CAIR for their response and just relieving themselves of him. And I am even more disappointed that our people refuse to look at the act of authorities with a critical eye and will blindly accept what is said especially if the said authority is a white man. And to be critical is not the same as being a conspiracist.
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