Paying tribute to heroism of a Muslim woman

By Ali Imran 

“Liberte” was the last word she uttered, as she paid the ultimate price in the line of duty.

She was a woman of extraordinary qualities – courage, integrity and a sublime sense of purposefulness in life – and she persevered with a combination of all three traits in the midst of one of the worst catastrophes, humanity has gone through.

She was a great-great-granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, the late 18th century ruler of Mysore, whose own strength of character and epic fight against the invading British imperialist forces form a fabled chapter in the history of the Indian sub-continent.

The time was  the height of WWII in 1943-44, the venue was the Nazi-occupied France and the heroic figure was Princess Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, who as  Britain’s Special Operations Executive agent, worked for the cause of Europe’s emancipation.

Even upon her arrest, following a French woman’s betrayal, she unflinchingly clung to her qualities of integrity and faithfulness to the ideals of liberty.

Persisting with true grit and grace, she defied Gestapo’s brutal interrogation tactics but revealed none of the British secret operations details during months-long confinement.

He incarceration ended in Germany where she was shot dead.. She was just 30 year-old and was posthumously awarded a British highest civil award George Cross, appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire and Mentioned in Despatches and awarded a French Croix de Guerre with Gold Star

Noor-un-Nisa belonged to a high-profile family, which symbolized a unique East-West union.

In their book, Conn Iggulden and David Iggulden have noted how Noor, a supporter of Indian independence, desired an Indian would perform outstandingly and win high recognition in the war to serve as a bridge between the British and the Indians.

“Of the thirty six thousand Indians, who died in the World War II, that Indian was to be (Noor) Khan herself,” they observed.

Her father Hazrat Inayat Khan was a great-grandson of Tipu Sultan and lived in Europe as a musician and a teacher of Sufism. Her mother, Ora Meena Ray Baker, was an American from Albuquerque, New Mexico who met Inayat Khan during his travels in the United States. The family lived in France and London.

Ora Baker was the half-sister of American yogi and scholar Pierre Bernard, her guardian at the time she met Hazrat Inayat Khan.

Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the family left Russia for London and lived in Bloomsbury. Noor attended nursery at Notting Hill.

In 1920, they moved to France, settling in Suresnes near Paris, in a house that was a gift from a benefactor of the Sufi movement.

Her father’s death in 1927 brought an added, poignant,  dimension to her life as Noor, the eldest of four children, took on the responsibility for her grief-stricken mother and her younger siblings.

She studied child psychology at the Sorbonne and music at the Paris Conservatory under the famous Nadia Boulanger, composing for harp and piano. She also learnt to play veena, an Indian stringed instrument.


She started writing poetry and children’s stories and became a regular contributor to children’s magazines and French radio.

The family moved from Paris to Falmouth, Cornwell, England, in the wake of German blitz, invasion and occupation of France. 

In Britain, Noor’s brother Vilayat joined the Royal Air Force and she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Afterwards, she was recruited by Special Operations Executive as a wireless operator. After necessary training, she was flown to northern France in the summer of 1943. From there she would make it to Paris.

In Paris, she lived perilously for Nazis followed her closely but she evaded them and at one time Noor was one of the very few credible conduits of messaging between Britain and French resistance. 

But her heroic work was cut short, when a Frenchwoman  betrayed Noor to Gestapo in October. The Gestapo personnel subjected her to worst forms of torture but failed to glean anything from their rock-determined captive. She even twice tried to escape from their custody.

Declaring her a dangerous prisoner, Gestapo sent her to German prison of Pfozheim and then to infamous Dachau concentration camp, where she along with other agents was shot in the back of the head in September. She was beaten savagely by the Nazis before being shot.  

Noor’s life and sacrifice in the way of liberty make her a towering Muslim hero in the modern world as well as provide a glimpse into nobility of  human spirit,  and, on the darker side, cruelty of humans to their fellow beings.

Her life and sacrifice also offer all elements of drama – suspense, action, heroic commitment to liberty,  betrayal,  war, misery of a people under occupation that a good production can turn into a successful film.

“Our world needs Muslim heroes,” says Dr Maqsood Chaudhry, who will host a banquet to benefit Unity Productions Foundation, an educational media organization that plans to film the life of the illustrious Noor-un-Nisa.

The event on May 6, 2012 at the Chaudhry’s home in Mclean, Virginia, is expected to be attended by a number of personalities.

Best-selling author Karen Armstrong  and Executive Producers, Michael Wolfe and Alex Kronemer, will speak about the project.

According to Jawad Abdul Rahman, Director of Development at the Unity Productions Foundation, the UPF has been researching the history of Nazi-occupied France and a dramatic, little known story about the different networks of Muslims, Christians and Jews who worked during that dark time to help birth the French Resistance and save hundreds and probably thousands from arrest and deportation to concentration camps.

The story includes a network of Muslims, Jews, and Christians that sheltered Allied airmen shot down over France; the Paris Mosque, which saved numerous POWs and Jewish refugees; and the amazing heroism of a young Muslim woman of mixed Indian and American descent, who for a time was the only link between the Allied cause and the French Resistance. The three parts of this project include a documentary film, a companion website, and educational outreach.

Sources: MGCT, Unity Production Foundation, Truth Spring, Wikipedia, The Dangerous Book of Heroes


Categories: Articles

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2 replies

  1. A SALUTE TO GREAT WOMAN: Noor’s life and sacrifice in the way of liberty make her a towering Muslim hero in the modern world as well as provide a glimpse into nobility of human spirit, and, on the darker side, cruelty of humans to their fellow beings. VERY WELL COMPOSED.

  2. Selection of a totally new topic, use of an effective diction and an attractive style and presentation–all deserve appreciation. Hats off, Imran.

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