Noor Inayat Khan
A World Traveller
Noor Inayat Khan was born in Moscow in 1914, to an Indian father and American mother. Hazrat Inayat Khan, Noor’s father, was the leader of a Sufi sect and helped bring Sufi mysticism to the West. He was so renowned that Tsar Nicholas II personally invited him to Russia to impart his knowledge. Noor’s father was not only a famous Sufi teacher; he was also the direct descendent of the celebrated Muslim ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sultan.
Soon after her birth, Noor’s family left Russia for England, where Noor attended nursery school in Notting Hill. In 1920 they moved to France, living in a house donated by one of Hazrat’s devotional followers. After her father’s premature death in 1927, Noor took on the responsibility of caring for her mother and younger siblings. She juggled this duty with a degree in child psychology at the Sorbonne, as well as a music course at the famous Paris conservatory. Noor then pursued a career as an author, writing poetry and children’s stories. Her talent meant she contributed regularly to French radio and in 1939 Noor had a book, Twenty Jataka Tales, published in London.
The Onslaught of War
The outbreak of World War Two and the invasion of France forced Noor’s family to England. Despite Noor’s outspoken commitment to Indian independence from the British, and to her father’s teachings of ahimsa (non-violence), she felt it was her duty to contribute to the war effort against the Germans. In November 1940 Noor joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) where she trained as a wireless operator. Her obvious ability at this, combined with her fluency in French and English, led to her being recruited to the Special Operations Executive as a secret agent. She was the first and only Asian to be recruited.
In June 1943 Noor was smuggled into France to be a radio operator for the resistance network. Many officers were against her deployment as she was a daydreamer who abhorred lying. However once in France Noor proved a conscientious and skilful worker. Unfortunately, shortly after her arrival many members of her network were betrayed and arrested, leaving Noor alone and vulnerable. Though she had a chance to flee to England, Noor bravely decided to stay in France, continuing her work as the last remaining link to Britain and moving from place to place to avoid capture. On one heart stopping occasion she had to bluff her way past the Gestapo pretending that her radio was a home film projector.
After evading the Gestapo for months, Noor was captured in October, supposedly betrayed by a double agent. Hours after her arrest she attempted a daring escape across the roof, but tightened security after a British air raid thwarted her effort. Noor was then transferred to Germany where she was permanently shackled and kept in solitary confinement. Despite intense interrogation, the Gestapo were unable to get any information out of Noor, not even her real name. It is reported that ‘her resilience and tenacity and endurance had an effect even on the hardened prison chiefs of the Gestapo’. After nine months of imprisonment Noor was taken to the Dachau concentration camp. There, she was executed. For Noor’s bravery and self-sacrifice she was posthumously awarded the George Cross. She is remembered today as a formidable yet modest Muslim woman.