Former North Texas Muslim cleric ordered to pay $2.55M in sexual exploitation lawsuit

By Sarah Sarder And Dana Branham
Dallas News
August 15, 2019

Zia ul-Haq Sheikh served as imam at the Islamic Center of Irving, also known as the Islamic Masjid.

A judge ordered a North Texas Muslim cleric to pay millions of dollars to a woman he is accused of sexually exploiting after counseling her for years.

Zia ul-Haq Sheikh, who has served as an imam at Dallas-area mosques, must pay $2.55 million for mental anguish and punitive damages and his accuser's legal fees, District Court Judge Emily Tobolowsky decided Thursday, according to a news release. 

Sheikh had been working as an imam at the Islamic Center of Irving, one of the biggest mosques in Texas, when he allegedly exploited the woman, according to a lawsuit filed in July 2018 and later amended to include an allegation of sexual assault. 

Sheikh said in an email Tuesday afternoon that he believed the judgment against him "is in error."
"Unfortunately, litigation in this country does not always favor the truth," he said. "In most cases, it boils down to how much financial stamina one has, and whether one has good legal representation."

Susan Adams, the lead trial counsel for the plaintiff, said Wednesday that the civil system put the burden of proof squarely on the woman's side.

She said her client filed the civil case after a criminal complaint hit a wall when the assigned investigator chose not to pursue charges against Sheikh. 

Nine of every 1,000 sexual assaults nationwide are referred to prosecutors, according to 2017 data from the Department of Justice analyzed by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Adams said her client is grateful to everyone who supported her. 

"She hopes her case will be a lesson to others on how to deal with clergy members accused of abuse," Adams said.

Sheikh said he was considering appealing the judgment. He represented himself in the final stage of the lawsuit, saying he had to let his attorneys go because of a lack of money.

"The odds were stacked against me winning this case," he said.

The lawsuit says Sheikh served as a counselor to the woman, referred to as Jane Doe, during her teenage years. 

The lawsuit accuses Sheikh of sexually exploiting Doe while he acted as a mental health services provider to her. It also accuses him of counseling malpractice.

"Jane's emotional dependency as a result of being counseled by defendant from age 13 to age 19 led Jane to be fearful of losing defendant's support in her life, and therefore created a situation where Jane was unable to refuse defendant's requests," the lawsuit says, referring to Sheikh's alleged requests for sexually explicit photos and videos, and, ultimately, intercourse.

When Doe was 19, Sheikh had sex with her at a Motel 6 and later gave her a pregnancy test, saying it was to ensure she wasn't pregnant so he wouldn't lose his job, the lawsuit claims. 

Sheikh cut off professional contact with Doe after that, according to the lawsuit. Adams said he texted Doe, but no longer counseled her and did not refer her to a new counselor.

A person who answered the phone Tuesday at the Islamic Center of Irving declined to comment and said he could not help reach anyone else for more information.

Sheikh said Tuesday that he had been employed as an imam at the Grand Prairie Masjid since May 2018, but that he resigned to protect the mosque "from any type of negativity."

Mosque officials refused to comment on the judgment and referred a reporter to a lawyer, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Imam Mohamed Shakib said in a Facebook video Tuesday from the Grand Prairie mosque that Sheikh was no longer affiliated with the mosque and would not be involved in any projects associated with the Grand Prairie Islamic Society. 

Shakib said Sheikh was hired at the Grand Prairie mosque before the lawsuit was filed.

"We thank him for his service to the community, and we wish him well for the future," Shakib said in the video.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.