Saturday, 6 October 2012

Noor Inayat Khan

BFTF recently watched an utterly fascinating documentary from the BBC4 Timewatch Series on a Noor Inayat Khan, an SOE operative who worked behind enemy lines in France during World War II.

Noor Inayat Khan was the daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan, great-grandson of Tipu Sultan, the famous 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. Hazrat Khan lived in Europe as a musician and a teacher of Sufism and was married to Ora Meena Ray Baker.

After his death in 1927, Noor looked after the mother and younger siblings. She studied child psychology and music before starting a career writing poetry and children's stories and became a regular contributor to children's magazines and French radio.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, the family fled to England where, she and her brother Vilayat decided to help defeat Nazi tyranny. However, their Sufi pacifist beliefs meant that they did not want to actively kill anyone.

Noor-Khan photographed in WAAF uniform between 1940 and 1942

Noor joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and became a proficient wireless operator. However, her ability to speak fluent French resulted in her being recruited to the french section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) where she was trained to work as a spy behind enemy lines and adopted the name Nora Baker.

Although her supervisors were not entirely convinced of here suitability for the role, a shortage of agents meant that Noor was given the codename 'Madeleine' and sent to occupied France.

Joining the “Physician” network in Paris, she found that many of the other operators in the network were being arrested but Noor insisted on continuing to operate and transmit important messages back to the UK.

Eventually, in October 1943, Noor was betrayed and to the Germans, arrested and interrogated. Her stubborn resistance resulted in her being labelled as an “extremely dangerous prisoner”.

Although Inayat Khan did not talk about her activities under interrogation, the authorities found her notebooks which, against regulations, included copies of all her sent messages. This gave the Germans enough information to figure out how to send messages that superficially appeared to come from Noor. British failures to spot anomalies resulted in three agents being sent directly into German hands.

After a failed escape bid in November 1943, Noor was taken to Germany and kept handcuffed in solitary confinement for ten months.

In September 1944, she was sent to the notorious Dachau Concentration Camp where, early on 13 September 1944, Noor was executed by a shot to the head. She was 30 years old.

Memorial to Noor Inayat Khan in London

Image Sources :
Noor Inayat Khan
Memorial to Noor Inayat Khan

Peoples Stories at the BBC
BBC History

A final note:
It is a source of sadness to BFTF that he rarely, if ever, hears about Muslims, such as Noor, at talks or sermons at local mosques. This is a shame as their stories greatly inform the debate about Muslim indentity - something that is badly in need of examples from the recent past to provide a framwork for discussion.

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