An Islamic teacher who sexually abused a young girl as he taught her the Koran has been spared prison after a court was told he is on benefits and his wife speaks ‘very little English’.
Suleman Maknojioa, 40, repeatedly rubbed the 11-year-old’s leg and even reached underneath the long folds of her prayer headscarf to squeeze her chest whilst giving her and her two brothers private tuition in Arabic.
Maknojioa was said to have ‘favoured’ the girl and believed the touching was ‘appropriate’ and given to reassure her.
But the confused girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, found herself becoming frightened whenever lessons were due for fear of what the tutor would do to her.
He was reported to police after the child’s mother overheard her two sons, aged 13 and seven, talking about the incidents in the kitchen.
On the day he was arrested, father of six Maknojioa, a highly-respected Hafiz, was due to teach 30 children at a mosque near his home in Blackburn, Lancashire.
He was later convicted of five counts of sexual activity with a child but on Monday he was handed a 40 week custodial sentence suspended for two years after the court heard that he was now on a benefits with a family reliant on him.
Preston Crown Court was told Maknojioa had been engaged by the children’s parents in 2012 to teach their children about the Islamic faith, with lessons taking place up to three times a week at their home in Lancashire.
Problems began in September of that year after the girl and her two brothers started their Koran tuition in Arabic in their living room. The court hard she was more interested and better at her lessons than her brothers, who were often told off.
The court heard that during the lessons Maknojioa began touching the girl’s arms and head, then moved to the legs, feet and chest and her thigh. The girl claimed that touching had typically occurred as she prayed; kneeling or cross legged while reading from the Koran.
‘I did not want it, but I was too afraid to say something,’ she told the jury. ‘He would put his hand under my head scarf on my chest and he would squeeze.
‘He would only use the one hand. The other hand would be writing something or he would be pointing to my brothers and telling them to pray harder.
‘No matter how hard my brothers tried to pray it wasn’t good enough. He would always say I was better even if I wasn’t. My brothers asked me what he had been doing and I didn’t know how to describe it.
‘I told them he had touched me up. They told me to tell mum and dad – but I just didn’t want to tell anyone.
‘It went on for ages, his hand going up and down.
‘It was never to say well done. You don’t do that to say “well done”. I was afraid of what my teacher would do.’
Her older brother said: ‘I knew what was happening for about a month before my parents. My sister would get very upset at the idea of anyone knowing. It was difficult for me to know what to do.
‘He favoured her and praised her. He would give her 10 pages to learn and we would only get three. That way he spent most of the lesson with her. He did it slyly so we didn’t notice. When it happened she was trying to pray and he would interrupt her. I have seen him touching her thigh in a stroking motion. It was inappropriate.’
The court heard that the sexual activity spanned over a period of around nine months, from September 2012 to June 2013 until the course of lessons ended. The girl’s father later confronted Makhojioa at his home but the teacher denied all the charges. He was found guilty after a trial.
Frida Hussain, mitigating, said: ‘This is a man who doesn’t pose any risk of harm to his children. He has problems with his kidneys and is due to go back into hospital for a further follow-up operation.
‘He is married with six children, that family unit depends on him. His wife doesn’t work and speaks very little English, they are dependent on him to lead their lives and with the running of the household. One of the children has learning difficulties.
‘Because he doesn’t teach now he is reliant on benefits and he has never claimed benefits before.’
Passing sentence Judge Michael Byrne told Maknojioa: ‘The parents invited you into the sanctity of their own home for the purpose of religious education. They trusted you and left you alone with their children.
‘I have read a letter from the girl in which she sets out her initial confusion at conduct of this sort from one who was not only in a position of authority over her but who she and her brother were expected to trust because their parents trusted him.
‘Her brothers found themselves in a difficult situation and the older brother felt he wasn’t able to protect his sister. She was of a tender age, young, vulnerable and impressionable.
‘There could be no greater recognition of trust than between a minister of religion and pupils whose care is entrusted to him by parents. You breached that trust deliberately and repeatedly.
‘Consequently you have been removed from any employment you have known. You are no longer teaching, you are suffering ill-health and are due to undergo surgical intervention.
‘I bear in mind your own family circumstances. I accept you are a very good father to your six children, your wife speaks little English and administration falls upon you.
‘I bear in mind that social services conducted their own assessment and found that you do not pose a risk. You are now unemployed living on state benefits.
‘I have come to the conclusion that this repeated offending from a person in a position of trust merits a term of imprisonment that crosses the custodial threshold. But I’m satisfied that the sentence of imprisonment in this case for the reasons I have referred to may be suspended.’
Maknojioa will be under supervision for two years and made subject of Sexual Offences Prevention Order for 10 years. He will also be on an ‘adult barring list’ for seven years.