Lord Sheikh, the Conservative Party’s first Muslim peer and a force in the insurance industry in the City – obituary

Lord Sheikh - Gary Lee/UPPA/Photoshot
Lord Sheikh - Gary Lee/UPPA/Photoshot

Lord Sheikh, who has died aged 81, was the first Muslim Conservative peer, appointed by Michael Howard in 2006, having built a successful insurance business in the City after his family were expelled from Uganda.

Mohamed Sheikh arrived in Britain in 1962, 10 years before Idi Amin forced Uganda’s Asian business community to leave the country. By the time his hitherto wealthy family arrived penniless in London, he was on the rise at Guardian Royal Exchange.

His break came in 1978 when he joined the brokers Camberford Law. Over 30 years, Sheikh transformed the business into an award-winning public company providing risk facilities for 1,800 brokers.

A philanthropist and a published author, Sheikh was an active member of the Lords. From his maiden speech onwards, he pressed successive governments to do more to combat climate change; in 2017, he called for Britain to follow New Zealand and require the Cabinet to consider the implications for carbon emissions of every decision it took.

Sheikh founded the all-party group on Islamic and Ethical Finance, and chaired the groups on Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. He was also the founding chairman of the National Muslim War Memorial Trust.

In 2003 he founded the Conservative Muslim Forum, chairing it until 2014, when he became its president. In this capacity and others, Sheikh promoted tolerance between religions, speaking out against radicalisation and anti-Semitism.

In 2018 Mail Online published an article headed “Exclusive: Top Tory Peer’s appearance at Corbyn’s ‘hate conference’ in Tunisia comes after YEARS of rubbing shoulders with Islamists, hate preachers and Holocaust deniers”.

Sheikh sued for libel, his counsel saying the article provided “strong grounds for suspecting that he is secretly an anti-Semite who approves of and sympathises with Holocaust denial, Islamist jihad and hate-preaching, which he is prepared knowingly and actively to support.”

The article made much of a meeting Sheikh had hosted at the Lords for the Pakistani Sunni Muslim leader Haseeb-ur-Rehman. This had in fact been a multi-faith meeting to promote communal harmony, also attended by the Bishop of Birmingham and an American diplomat.

At the conference in Tunis, Sheikh had delivered a speech maintaining, in line with UK government policy, that to achieve a lasting peace, a two-state solution should provide security for the state of Israel and also respect the rights of the Palestinian people.

Lord Sheikh at the inauguration of the Mubarak Mosque in Tilford, Surrey, in 2019 - Lee Thomas/Alamy
Lord Sheikh at the inauguration of the Mubarak Mosque in Tilford, Surrey, in 2019 - Lee Thomas/Alamy

When the case was settled, Sheikh said: “Both before and since I entered the House of Lords, I have consistently sought to promote inter-racial and interfaith understanding, tolerance and respect. To find myself accused by a newspaper of the very conduct which I have always opposed was profoundly hurtful.”

Mohamed Iltaf Sheikh was born in Kenya on June 13 1941, the son of Mohamed Abdullah Sheikh and Kalsum Ara Sheikh; the family originated from the Punjab. His father dealt in coffee and cotton.

He was brought up in Uganda, where his father also built a property portfolio. Moving to London aged 20, he joined Sun Alliance as a trainee broker, taking his qualifications at Holborn and City of London colleges. He moved to Household & General Insurance in 1966, and in 1969 to Guardian Royal Exchange, before joining Camberford Law.

Of his family’s arrival from Uganda in the clothes they stood up in, he recalled: “Idi Amin took everything from us, except what we had in our minds. Because we were doing very well in Uganda, we came here and we were prepared to work hard. What we did in this country was perhaps what we had learned in Uganda, and that is to use our brains, to use our initiative, and we have done very well.”

As well as driving the success of Camberford Law, Sheikh became the chairman of several property companies, and a director of other businesses.

In 2021, he was added to the Indiaspora Government Leaders List, which recognises 200 public figures of Indian heritage in countries around the world.

Sheikh was the author of An Indian in The House: The lives and times of the four trailblazers who first brought India to the British Parliament (2019) and Emperor of the Five Rivers: The life and times of Maharajah Ranjit Singh ( 2021). At the time of his death he had nearly completed a historical novel.

Sheikh at various times was regional chairman of the British Insurance Brokers’ Association; a national council member of the Chartered Insurance Institute; and a committee member of Fimbra.

He chaired the Sheikh Abdullah Foundation, and was a patron of Orphans in Need. He was made a Freeman of the City of London in 1995.

Mohamed Sheikh married Saida Begum in 1986; the marriage was dissolved. He is survived by his daughter from a previous marriage.

Mohamed Sheikh, born June 13 1941, died September 22 2022