In a recently released film titled “Noor Inayat Khan: Enemy of the Reich,” the heroine was touted as a devout Muslim, motivated by her Islamic faith to save Jews during the Holocaust. But the truth is that Khan was not a practicing Muslim at all.
In 1940, Khan joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and became a wireless operator. Subsequently, she attended bomber training school and eventually became Assistant Section Officer. Finally, she was recruited to join the SOE (Special Operations Executive) in France, where she was posted to the Air Ministry and adopted the code name “Nora Baker.”
During the course of her service as a wireless operator in Nazi-occupied France, Khan assumed numerous identities, among which were “Madeline” and “Jeanne-Marie Renier.”
The work of wireless operators was critical in assisting the Allied cause. The possibility of detection and capture by the SS was always lurking in the background. Khan knew the dangers prior to accepting her mission, but went forward anyway.
After all the other operators in her unit were arrested by the SD (Sicherheistdienst; i.e. the Nazi intelligence agency), Khan was offered, but declined an opportunity to return to Britain. As the sole remaining French operator, she was sought after by the SD which tried to track her down in common everyday places like subway stations. However, she moved from place to place under various assumed identities, thus avoiding arrest and furthering the cause of freedom.
Eventually, someone who knew Khan betrayed her and turned her in to the SD. She was arrested by the Gestapo on September 13, 1943 and was interrogated for over a month. She refused to provide the SS with any information. Unfortunately, she had kept notebooks with records regarding her wireless messages to Britain. The SD eventually seized the notebooks and continued sending messages to Britain under Khan’s code name.
On November 25, 1943, Khan made what constituted a second attempt to escape SD headquarters. She was captured nearby. The SD requested that she sign a declaration of refusal to make future escape attempts. She declined and was therefore classified as “highly dangerous.” She was sent to Germany on November 27, 1943 where she was imprisoned at Pforzheim. She was labelled as a “Nacht und Nebel” (Night and Fog), a designation for those who would disappear into the night.
For ten months she sat in solitary confinement, with her hands and feet shackled. A wire ran between her hands and feet, tying them together so she was curled up, unable to feed herself, clean herself or properly lie down. Other prisoners were able to hear her cries at night, but in the presence of Nazis she remained stoic and refused to cooperate.
On September 11, 1944, Khan and three other SOE agents were taken to Dachau concentration camp. There is some contention about whether or not Khan was singled out for overnight torture or beating. Two days later, the SOE agents were fatally shot in the back of their heads and subsequently cremated. Khan’s last recorded word was “[L]iberté!"
She was 30 years old when she was executed at the hands of the Nazis. She was posthumously given numerous awards including the British George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. She was commemorated on a British stamp themed “remarkable lives.” And, on November 8, 2012, a bust of Khan was unveiled in London’s Garden Square.
So what motivated Khan’s acts of bravery and courage?
According to Unity Production Foundation’s (UPF) Alex Kronemer, a Muslim convert and the co-founder of UPF, Khan’s courage, integrity, and zeal in her quest against Nazism was motivated by her Muslim faith. Though “Enemy of the Reich” does not expressly make this assertion, the film, which consists primarily of interviews, is replete with this insinuation.
Additionally, in his opening statements at the film’s Washington, DC screening in February, 2014 at the Warner Theatre, Kronemer asks why Khan would risk her life and what would compel her to put herself in potential danger to save the Jews. His answer was her faith. “What compelled her was her great sense of humanity for other people, religions, other races, and Nazi ideology was opposed to her beliefs.” Kronemer explained that in recent years, some stories had come to his attention of Muslims hiding Jews to save them during the Holocaust. He wondered why he had never heard of any stories about the role of Muslims in World War II. He claims that he produced this film, as well as other pro-Muslim and pro-Islam films to “tell the full story” of Muslims. Enemy of the Reich is the tenth such film.
Many interviewed in the film asserted that Khan’s motivation was “idealism” and “her ideology.” She believed that all life has value and she had a tolerant view of all religions. Her nephew, who is Sufi, assumed “it must have been her faith. Only that faith could have carried her….. Her message is that the human soul is of Divine Source, all humans must be free, and every human is sacrosanct.” Indeed, prior to becoming a British spy, Khan built a career writing children’s stories, which taught that all conflict should be resolved through love and non-violence.
However, there are numerous flaws with the film’s assertions. While it is true that Khan appeared to be motivated by her belief system, as many people are, it is inaccurate to assume that only people of “faith” have virtue and courage. And, research reveals that Khan was not a devout Muslim.
Khan grew up in a home with an Indian Sufi father and an American mother. Her father’s brand of Islam was a far cry from traditional or authoritative Islam and indeed, it would be considered heretical by traditional Islamic standards.
Contrary to the film’s proclamation that “Sufis are first and foremost Muslim,” Khan’s father’s version of Sufism expressly disavows belonging to any particular religion including Islam. He belonged to the Christi Order within the mystic tradition, which emphasizes love, tolerance and openness. It is known for welcoming seekers of all faiths, and confines itself to no particular doctrine or ideology. It emphasizes the universality of all faith traditions, not favoring one over another. It seeks to spread the message of unity and the divinity in all living beings. Her father believed that there is really only one universal religion and there are many paths to God and he was primarily concerned with inner soul. So even if Khan were “religious” in the same sense that her father was, it would be inaccurate to conclude that her faith was “Islamic” in any true meaning of the word.
The producer of the film could only conclude that Khan was Muslim by assuming that all Sufis are Muslim and then extrapolating that Khan’s father was Sufi and thus Muslim, so Khan must have been also. However, according to Sharabani Basu, author of Khan’s biography titled “Spy Princess: the life of Noor Inayat Khan,” Khan was not a “practicing Muslim” despite the fact that she was influenced by her liberal Sufi upbringing.
Additionally, the film conspicuously omits the fact that Khan was engaged to a Jew prior to the outbreak of World War II. It’s hard to believe that this was an accidental oversight on the part of UPF, rather than the intentional omission of information that would tip off the audience to the fact that Khan could not have been the devout Muslim that UPF claims she was. Islamic doctrine dictates that while Muslim men are permitted to marry Jewish or Christian women, Muslim women are confined to marry Muslim men only.
That Khan’s marriage to her fiancé never came to fruition is of no consequence. What is important is the fact that Khan, while certainly motivated by a loving, virtuous ideology, was not motivated by Islam as UPF producers would have you think. The film holds itself out as honoring this courageous Holocaust heroine. But on some level, it stains her memory by attributing to her false motives, in a narrative that constitutes nothing more than an Islamist propaganda lie.
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