Tributes to man who ‘dedicated his life’ to Newham communities
PUBLISHED: 17:00 15 April 2020 | UPDATED: 17:34 15 April 2020
Tributes have been paid to a community pioneer who has died at the age of 82.
Abdul Karim Sheikh, who founded one of Newham’s first mosques, died on Sunday, April 12, after contracting Covid-19.
Mr Sheikh’s sons, Saleem and Naeem, said: “Our father was the heart and soul of the family and kept everyone glued together. He was a true gentleman.
“He was mild mannered, funny and a stickler with a meticulous eye for detail. He was an amazing father and grandfather.”
The mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, offering condolences to his family and friends, said: “Mr Sheikh dedicated his life to helping and supporting the community.
“Throughout his long and distinguished career he brought to the council an understanding of all the communities he was elected to represent.
“He is one of those people who we can genuinely say made a difference. He will be hugely missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Mr Sheikh came to Britain from Pakistan searching for a better life for himself and family in 1967. He settled in Newham in 1970.
It was during the 1970s that he joined Ford Motor Company, working as a quality controller at its Dagenham car plant for 22 years.
While there he helped lead strikes and translated for the mixed workforce as an unelected official in the T&G Union.
In the 1980s, he joined 13 Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Christian candidates standing in a local election in what was at the time an unsuccessful bid to see wider representation on the council.
However, he was elected after joining the Labour Party and served as a councillor between 1990 and 2010. He was ceremonial mayor in 1998 and once served as deputy leader during Sir Robin Wales’s tenure.
He left Labour in protest at the 2003 Iraq War, going on to represent the Respect Party from 2006-2010.
During his time at the council, he represented wards including Kensington, St Stephen’s, Upton and Green Street West and served on environment, planning and housing committees.
A pioneer of community activism and advocate of multiculturalism, Mr Sheikh promoted dialogue between believers of different faiths including through the Forest Gate based organisation Faithful Friends.
In the 1990s, his campaign led to a part of West Ham Cemetery being dedicated to Muslim burials.
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He was a founding member of Green Street Mosque, established in 1974, and the Newham Mosque Alliance as well as an active supporter of Queen’s Market.
He was chairman of the Newham Council for Racial Equality and served on the Newham Voluntary Agencies Council as well as the Green Street Single Regeneration Board.
His service was recognised with the award of the British Empire Medal in 1990.
On where his passion for the community came from, Naeem said: “It’s the way he was brought up – looking after others and taking time for others. Having been the eldest in the family, he always had the duty of caring for his younger siblings.
“He was always available no matter what time, day or night. Up until his last days he was helping the community.
“He stood up for what was right. He stood up for the weaker person. People of any faith. There were no barriers. He stood shoulder to shoulder with everybody but never rose his voice in anger.”
East Ham MP Stephen Timms remembered Mr Sheikh as both a supporter and one time political opponent.
“Mr Sheikh was a gentle, courteous and always likeable man, who has been a pillar of our community for a very long time.
“He played a key role in the establishment of Green Street mosque in 1976, and was general secretary then chairman until his death.
“The mosque has long been a key Newham institution. He welcomed me and Gordon Brown to the mosque in the 1997 General Election campaign.
“He had a deep commitment to inter-faith work. He will be remembered with deep affection, and greatly missed.”
Cllr Zulfiqar Ali said Mr Sheikh’s contribution over the past 40-years had paved the way for a borough of peace and harmony.
“He was a pioneer in community activism and helped open pathways for greater representation of all communities in Newham Council. I would give him credit for a lot of what we see in terms of the political make up of the council and borough we see today.
“His death will be deeply mourned by thousands of residents from all faiths and ethnicities. May his family find some solace during this difficult time,” Cllr Ali said.
Rob Ferguson from campaign group Newham Stand Up to Racism said: “Abdul Karim Sheikh was amongst so much else, a principled and committed campaigner and opponent of Islamophobia and racism in all it forms.
“He recognised the importance of unity. He came to some of the first organising meetings of Newham SUTR and could always be relied upon to support vigils and protests. His loss will be felt deeply by all.
“We need to remember the example Abdul Karim Sheikh set as we carry forward the fight against racism and discrimination.”
Mr Sheikh’s funeral was on Tuesday, April 14.
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