Blog post featuring on the website for the campaign Change the Script ran by the Hon Baroness Uddin.
When we think about World War II the images that are generally conjured up are that of Nazi Germany, bombs, air raids, spies and trenches and not anything remotely related to a woman at war let alone a Muslim one. That’s where Noor Inayat Khan, an unsung hero as it were, comes in. There are a number of reasons why you probably haven't heard of her before, and a lot of them remain the same reasons why established Muslim women aren't spoken about in British society today. Nonetheless, looking at a historic figure like Noor tells us that having a Muslim female inspiration is entirely tangible.
Noor was born on the 1st January 1914 in Russia to an Indian father and American mother, a direct descendant of Tipu Sultan, an 18th-century Muslim ruler of Mysore.
She was brought up in both Britain and France making her the perfect mesh of bilingual and multicultural, ready to be plucked by the elite Special Operations Executive in 1942 set up by Winston Churchill. She was sent to Paris to work as a radio operator, which made her the first woman undertaking this job in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The thing to remember about Noor is that she did not take on this position with the notion of fighting because of her love for Britain, instead, it was her aversion to fascism and dictatorship. Sadly, it was both those things ultimately led her to her tragic death.
Codenamed Madeleine, also known under the false identity as Jeanne Marie Renier, she assumed the identity of a governess from Blois who had moved to Paris.
Within the first week of the operation, many of the top operatives had been captured by the Gestapo (the official Nazi secret Police). After some time laying low with another agent, word was heard from London instructing Noor to return. She, however, refused instruction. She requested to stay on after realising she was the only British operative remaining and continued to single-handedly work six radio operators on her own.
After three months of tirelessly having to change her appearance and alias in order to continue sending intercepted radio messages back to England, her name had been compromised. An act of betrayal from a colleagues sister, Noor was caught and taken to the German prison Pforzheim in 1943. Her refusal to divulge any information led to 10 months of beatings, torture and starvation being taken to Dachau concentration camp where she was tortured further. On the 13th September 1944, Noor Inayat Khan was led to her execution. Her last word; “liberté.”
Her piece of history doesn't stand alone. It highlights the importance of Muslim women being bold in their beliefs, but more importantly, it exemplifies the 1000’s of stories about both Muslim women and men who had participated, fought and lost their lives in WWII who are all unsung heroes.