History glosses over Muslim involvement in World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim soldiers from Africa, India and the Soviet Union sacrificed their lives in the fight against fascism. So why don’t we ever hear about them?
The largest volunteer army ever came from India to help contain Hitler. It numbered 2.5 million people. Many of them were practitioners of Islam.
Noor Inayat Khan was one. Noor was a published writer who later served as a resistance agent. She eventually became Britain’s only Muslim war heroine.
Sometimes known as Nora Baker or “The Spy Princess,” Noor was born in Moscow in 1914 to an American mother and an Indian father, but she grew up in Paris where she learned to speak fluent French.
Noor’s father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, was a poet and musician descended from Indian royalty. Khan taught Universal Sufism, a mystical approach to the study of Islam. He raised Noor and her sister to value religious tolerance and pacifist ideals.
Despite her privileged upbringing, Noor was born to resist: Her great-great-great grandfather, Tipu Sultan, was an 18th century Muslim ruler of a kingdom in southern India called Mysore. He was killed in battle in 1799 after refusing to bow to British colonial rule.
Noor spent the beginning of WWII training as a nurse with the Red Cross in France. In 1940, she and her mother and sister fled by boat to England. They escaped France right before the government surrendered to Hitler.
Once in the UK, Noor joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force — the female branch of the Royal Air Force — as a wireless operator. Wireless operators were tasked with intercepting and interpreting Morse code messages. Noor’s work quickly attracted the attention of the Special Operations Executive — a secret elite organization founded to aid resistance fighters and counteract what Winston Churchill called the Germans’ “ungentlemanly warfare.”
In 1943, the Special Operations Executive sent Noor to occupied Paris to work as a radio operator, dispatching coded messages between the English and French resistance movements. She was the first female wireless operator sent to France during the Nazi occupation.