Tarrant County woman accuses religious leader of sexual exploitation

The Islamic Center of Irving on the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Adha on August 28, 2018.
The Islamic Center of Irving on the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Adha on August 28, 2018. Facebook

A 21-year-old Tarrant County woman is suing the former imam of the Islamic Center of Irving, accusing him of sexual exploitation and counseling malpractice.

The plaintiff, “Jane Doe,” alleges that Zia Ul-Haq Sheikh was “grooming her for sex” in the five years that he provided her mental health counseling.

Sheikh has denied the allegations and said the truth will eventually be known.

Starting in 2010, Doe would meet with Sheikh once a week for counseling in his office at the Irving Masjid where they would discuss the absence of her biological father, her relationship with her mother and other emotional issues, she says in the lawsuit. She was 13 years old at the time.

According to the suit, Doe became so emotionally dependent on Sheikh that she started calling him “Baba”, the Arabic word for father. Over the course of their counseling relationship, Sheikh helped Doe buy a car and lent her money for tuition and a laptop.

After Doe turned 18, the interactions became increasingly sexual, the suit says. It alleges that Sheikh “offered himself as a potential husband” to Doe when she requested that he help her find a spouse. The lawsuit states that Sheikh already has two wives and the Islamic faith allows a man to take up to four in certain circumstances.

“Although Defendant had no intention of ever marrying [Doe], he abused her emotional dependency on him as well as her family’s trust in him, and he began a year-long process of grooming [Doe] to become more sexualized and to ultimately engage in illicit sexual acts with him,” the lawsuit says.

After a year of “sexting on a daily basis” and engaging in other sexual behavior online, on Dec. 5, 2016, Sheikh allegedly texted Doe to meet him at a Motel 6 in Grapevine. There, Sheikh engaged in sexual intercourse with Doe and before leaving the motel, he told her it “was a one time thing, and it’s not happening again,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also states that Doe’s “emotional dependency as a result of being counseled by Defendant from age 13 to 19 led [Doe] to be fearful of losing Defendant’s support in her life, and therefore created a situation where [Doe] was unable to refuse Defendant’s requests.”

On two separate occasions, Sheikh admitted to Doe’s parents that he had sexual relations with her, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit was filed in July in Dallas County but comes to light after a yearlong investigation by the Irving-based organization Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE) was published earlier this month. The non-profit is a watchdog group that aims to hold religious leaders in Muslim communities accountable for abuse and neglect of congregation members.

On Oct. 13, Sheikh posted on his Facebook page that he was advised against making a public statement by his attorney. “Everything will be clear soon, insha’Allah,” he wrote.

On Thursday, Sheikh posted another message on Facebook saying he’s “tempted to release a year’s worth of text messages in public. Will separate truth from falsehood.”

The attorneys representing Jane Doe — Farhana Querishi and Asiya Salejee — did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sheikh’s attorney, Hershel Chapin provided the Star-Telegram with a statement on Friday which said in part:

“Imam Zia is and has been a prominent Muslim leader who devotes his life in service of the Almighty, his faith community, his fellow human beings globally, and to the Dallas-Fort Worth Community. ... He has used his position as a respected leader to advocate for a tolerant, peaceful, harmonious, and law-abiding vision for humanity.

“With regard to the recent ‘Jane Doe’ lawsuit that was filed against Imam Zia: Imam Zia looks forward to responding to the allegations against him through the process of the pending litigation. He is confident that the evidence will establish that the lawsuit against him lacks merit.”

Hanaa Tameez, 817-390-7991, @HTameez

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