Her Inspiring Bravery as UK Special Ops (SOE) Agent with French Résistance in Nazi Europe, and her links with Sufi Islam. Posthumously awarded with the George Cross & MBE, one of the only three women to be so honored. 

Hazrat Pir Inayat Khan with newly born daughter Noor   

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Noor Inayat Khan نور عنایت خان was honored with a long overdue Memorial by Sculptor Karen Newman  at the verdant, beautiful green enclave of London, The Gordon Square Garden, in the University of London. It was inaugurated by HRH Princess Royal on 8th November, 2012

The Memorial was installed by the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust which has been founded in Noor’s honor by her biographer, Shrabani Basu after years of struggle and fund~raising with the support of diverse admirers of Noor, and their donations, including 34 cross party MPs in Britain, eminent Asians in UK like Labour M.P. Valerie Vaz, film-maker Gurinder Chadha and Shami Chakrabarty, director of Liberty Emporium. The many Indian supporters includes Film Director Kiran Rao and her husband, the very popular actor, director & producer Aamir Khan, who in 2010 gave their globally acclaimed indie film ‘Dhobi Ghat’ (produced by their AKP Films) for a charity screening fund-raiser.

The memorial stands for freedom, equality, peace and religious harmony, defeating fascism, the principles Noor Inayat Khan fiercely believed in, lived and and died for.

Noor Inayat Khan Memorial The Gordon Square Garden, University of London.

Of Indian-American Sufi Islam descent, Noor was an Allied Aircraft Woman and Spy in World War 2 who heroically worked undercover as a Radio Operator with French Résistance. Her father, Hazrat Pir Inayat Khan (Biography) was a teacher & preacher of Sufi Islam and a musician, a descendant of the late 18th century South Indian Muslim Ruler, Tipu Sultan {‘The Tiger of Mysore’ (1750 – 99) with his Capital in present day Mysore and Bangalore, Karnataka} known for his progressive Governance and affluent Kingdom, and who was also the last opposing bastion against British Colonialism. Inayat Khan left India for the West in 1910, traveling as Spiritual Teacher & Musician in Europe and North America, promoting the use of Sufi Music as a means of attaining spirituality and oneness & harmony with the divine. 

Ora Meena Ray Baker/Ameena Begum with teen Noor


Noor Khan playing the Indian Veena and in WAAF uniform 

Noor’s mother was Poet Ora Meena Ray Baker (later ‘Pirani’ (a Sufi Title) Ameena Begum) from Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, who was half-sister of American Yogi and Scholar, Pierre Bernard (her guardian at the time) and also related to Mary Eddy Baker, founder of the Christian Science movement. She met and fell in love with Inayat Khan during his trip to the US.

In 1913, on the invitation of a Tsar Aristocracy facing internal unrest and impending War (WW1) the couple settled in Moscow. Noor was born in Kremlin in Tsarist Russia on Jan 1, 1914. Soon thereafter, in early 1914, just before the outbreak of World War 1 the family moved – through a series of adventures enroute  to London via Paris.

Here in the same year Inayat Khan founded the ‘Sufi Order in the West’,which later, in 1923 was dissolved into the ‘International Sufi Movement’, characterized by respect for all devotional traditions.

In 1920 the Family moved back onto France, near Paris and here Noor studied Child Psychology at the Sorbonne and Music at Paris Conservatory under the famous Nadia Boulanger, composing for harp and piano. Her father passed on in 1927 during a visit to India. 

As a young adult Noor wrote children’s short-stories and sang Sufi songs, a regular contributor to children’s magazines and French Radio Radiodiffusion Française. As a harpist she had performed at the Salle Erard, the Mecca of Parisian cultural life. Her stories for children were being published on the kids section of ‘Le Figaro’, one of France’s two most prominent newspapers. Very clearly Noor was, from an early age – a brilliant multifarious creative personality.  

In 1939 she wrote and published ‘Twenty Jataka Tales’ a selection from the brilliant ancient Indian folk tales & fables based on the previous incarnations of Gautam Buddha, both animal & human, especially popular with children. Apart from France, this book was also published in UK and USA. Noor was also in the process of creating a children’s newspaper just before the outbreak of World War 2. In 1940 as France was being overrun by Germany, Ameena Begum with Noor and her younger brother Vilayat fled to London.

WW2 Indian Sufi Princess Allied Spy Noor Inayat Khan, via SunjayJK

 As per the Sufi beliefs of non violence, Noor was a practicing pacifist, but she wanted to play her part in defeating Hitler’s evil. In her own words “I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians (of undivided India).” Thus in 1940, as a 27 year old wanting to fight the tyranny of Nazism & their Fascism she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force of the British RAF (Royal Air Force) as a AircraftWoman 2nd Class, getting trained in Wireless Radio Operation.In June, 1941 she was assigned to RAF’s Bomber Training School, but she soon got bored of her desk work there, and anxious to fight at the front applied for a commission for field duty. Thus in late 1942 Noor was recruited into the F (France) Section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE, aka the Baker Street Irregulars), the Spy Agency created by Churchill to sabotage Hitler’s war. After completion of her three months basic SOE training, in early February 1943 she was posted to the Air Ministry, Directorate of Air Intelligence, seconded to First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), and sent to various other SOE schools for further training. At the end of these Training Ops she was a secret “Agent in the Field”, though her official cover position was of an Assistant Section Officer seconded in the First Aid Women’s Yeomanry (FANY).    

In June, 1943 due to her fluency in both French & English, and her skills in Wireless Communications she was selected to work with the French Résistance as a Radio Operator. Codenamed ‘Madeleine’, with a call sign of ‘Nurse’ and cover identity of Jeanne-Marie Regnier, Noor was parachuted into Nazi occupied northern France during the night of 16th 17th June, the first woman spy to be sent into occupied France. From here she traveled to Paris with a Résistance member and together with two other SOE radio operators, Diana Rowden and Cecily Lefort joined the Physician Network (codenamed Prosper) led by Francis Suttilla BritishSpecial Agent operating in France since Oct, 1942. She was to become the communication link between Résistance and SOE in England at a time when the job of a Radio Operator in Nazi territories had an average life expectancy of just six weeks!

But even before her arrival, the Prosper Network had been heavily infiltrated by the Gestapo and over six weeks of her arrival in France almost all the members of the Prosper Network, numbering in hundreds and her fellow SOE spy operators were arrested in Gestapo’s most successful coup against the Résistance in occupied France. It was later revealed that even Henri Dericourt, who received her in northern France was a double agent working for the Gestapo. After these arrests, Noor was advised by London to come back, but she refused as she was the last critical link between France and England, and continued her work behind enemy lines.

Overnight thus the ‘poste-Madeleine’ became the most important link between French Résistance and the Allied Forces, and for a total of 3 & 1/2 months Noor carried out this extremely dangerous work. Moving from one hideout to another, changing her alias & appearance (dying her hair & changing hairstyles for instance) she managed to escape captivity while maintaining wireless communication with SOE. Noor used a dozen odd apartments scattered around Paris as hideouts during this period, her complete fluency of French helping her pass through checkpoints and escape many other risky situations.    

The Gestapo had her full description as well as her code name, but inspite of deploying considerable forces for the specific purpose they could not capture her, and she always managed to keep ahead of the Nazis, constantly carrying her Heavy 15 kg B Mark II Set (B2) Radio Set wherever she went.

“She refused to abandon what had become the most important and dangerous post in France, although given the opportunity to return, she refused as she did not wish to leave her French comrades without communications and also hoped to rebuild her group. She remained in her post therefore and did the excellent work which earned her a posthumous Mention in Dispatches”.London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38578, p. 1703

In Oct, 1943 she was betrayed for 100,000 French Francs by Renée Garry, the sister of the Emile Garry, leader of the Prosper Network’s Circuit Noor was working with, who provided Gestapo with the address of the flat Noor was using at that time. Jealously played a part in this betrayal, Renée settled for less than the Germans were willing to pay for this critical information. Noor was thus captured in this flat by the German SD Security Service (SicherheitsdienstIntelligence Agency of SS and the Nazi Party), and held in their Headquarters in Paris. On her arrest and during interrogation she fought so fiercely that SD officers became fearful of her, and she was treated as an extremely dangerous prisoner. 

In spite of rigorous interrogation by the Gestapo lasting a month all the Germans could extract from her was false information, they couldn’t even get her to reveal her real name, leave aside any information on other spy operatives working in France. During this one month she escaped captivity twice but due to bad luck (an ill timed air raid alert once) she was captured in the vicinity on both occasions. 

Noor was taken to Germany in late November, 1943 “for safe custody” and imprisoned in complete secrecy at Pforzheim, southwest Germany in solitary confinement, as a Nacht und Nebel” (“Night and Fog”) prisoner. Classified as “highly dangerous”, she was handcuffed and shackled in chains most of her ten months there. On 11 September 1944 Noor Inayat Khan and three other SOE agents from Karlsruhe prison, Yolande Beekman, Eliane Plewman and Madeleine Damerment were moved to the infamous Dachau Concentration Camp

In the early hours of the morning of September 13, 1944 the four women were executed by shots to the head, and their bodies were immediately burned in the crematorium. Noor was cruelly beaten up by a high-ranking SS officer, Wilhelm Ruppert for many hours before being shot from behind. Her last word was “Liberté”. She was only 30 years old

In Jan, 1946 France conferred the Military Decoration of Croix de guerre posthumously to Noor and in 1949 Britain awarded her the George Cross and MBE, one of the only three women to be awarded with this highest civilian honor.  

Royal Mai lStamp on WW2 Allied Spy Noor Inayat Khan, an Indian Sufi Muslim, in March, 2014, as part of 'Remarkable Lives' Set of 10

Royal Mail released a stamp on Noor Inayat Khan in March, 2014, which was also her birth centenary year, as part of a Set of 10 Stamps on ‘Remarkable Lives’

Her brother Vilayat Inayat Khan (1916-2004) later became head of the Sufi Order International. Sufi Islam is described as the exploration of the Mystical Dimension of Islam: it’s about Harmony, Peace and Music, the way which strives for the oneness with God. “How to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s inner self, beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits”  
Incidently, Feisal Abdul Rauf spearheading the Park51 Islamic & Inter-Faith Community Center in Lower Manhattan is a Sufi Imam, a Member of Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order, who “joyfully welcome seekers and students of all religious and non-religious paths into our gatherings”. Imam Feisal is somebody who has worked tirelessly to bridge the divides between Islam and other Faiths, particularly Christianity, as between Western and Muslim Worlds, tough to find anybody better suited in the context to help bridge both Worlds split wide apart.
The one critique to Sufi can be that of Hereditary Succession of Leaders, Teachers, Pirs, Shrine Caretakers, especially practiced in the developing regions like South Asia, not so much in USA for instance, succession was always meant to be in Islam – on Merit. the best person for the job of a leader, if you will, not an opportunity to be grabbed by the ones closest to it.    

I see her very clearly as she was that first afternoon, sitting in front of me in that dingy little room, in a hard kitchen chair on the other side of a bare wooden table. Indeed of them all, and there were many, who did not return, I find myself constantly remembering her with a curious and very personal vividness which outshines the rest… the small, still features, the dark quiet eyes, the soft voice, and the fine spirit glowing in her.

— Captain Selwyn Jepson, the SOE official who interviewed and recruited Noor

Nothing, neither her nationality, nor the traditions of her family, none of these obliged her to take her position in the war. However she chose it. It is our fight that she chose, that she pursued with an admirable, an invincible courage.

— Madame de Gaulle-Anthonioz (niece of General Charles de Gaulle)














Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust –  

Biography – Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by

Shrabani Basu  Amazon, Ratings – 4.5/5 Stars

News Articles – HT Deccan Herald

Assorted Articles –

World War II – Women of the SOE  

Noor Inayat Khan Bio on Wiki

Related Videos

TV Documentary TimeWatch, BBC’s History Series

1st of 5 Parts  (same as pasted above)

BBC’s Noor Inayat Khan: Life of a Spy Princess, Text & Pics  

Other Video & Radio on BBC –

Noor’s Father, Hazrat Pir Inayat Khan’s Bio –

Other Books by Shrabani Basu


Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, of Park51, Lower Manhattan Islamic and Inter-Faith Harmony Center  

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