The following interview is posted with permission from the UPF team.
How did you first find out about Noor Inayat Khan and what drew you to her story?
My colleagues Alex Kronemer, Jawaad Abdul Rahman, and I were looking at several stories about Muslim heroes during World War II. I came across a reference to Noor Inayat Khan, and we all looked into her story. We were overwhelmed. There were many Muslims who fought against the Nazis, not only other Indians, but Arabs and Balkan Muslims, too. Her story is not unique in that respect. But whereas many of these other people were men, often fighting alongside other men of arms, she was a woman, alone through most of her ordeal, with only her courage and, very importantly, her faith to carry her though. It’s that which made her story most remarkable to us.
Besides being a woman at a time when female intelligence officers were few and far between, how else is her story unique and important?
She appeared to be such an unlikely heroine. She was physically slight, very artistic, and aesthetic. She was not an aggressive person. You would not have expected her to have fought back against her captors as ferociously as she did, or to escape twice from Dachau concentration camp. She never gave up one name or even her own name. She was completely, 100 percent opposed to the Axis forces and what Nazi Germany stood for and very dedicated to the task. Everyone who met her felt she was extraordinary.
Despite the fact that many Muslims played brave roles and sacrificed during World War II, the prevailing narrative of that conflict usually doesn’t include any mention. A person could watch thousands of hours of documentaries and movies and never know that there were any Muslims involved in the story. But there were, and this is one of the stories.
What role does Noor Inayat Khan’s faith play in her heroism?
While experiencing a great deal of racism and religious intolerance herself, Noor’s father, Inayat Khan, preached an inclusive message that welcomed all races and all faiths to his Sufi Center in Paris. It was this teaching of inclusiveness that made the Nazis so repulsive to her and caused her to risk her life and ultimately die resisting them and everything they stood for. She was very loyal to this work that she did. She died for it and she never betrayed one person who worked with her. Her choices in life are so often correct choices – difficult, correct choices that she is a mentor for us, particularly for young Muslims. She was not rigid, she had a wide and penetrating point of view on the world and she was very committed to her ideals.
Why was it easy to gather information about Noor Inayat Khan when her work was meant to remain secret?
Her story had good documentation. There was a real record, written and verifiable almost day by day. The problem with many WWII resistance stories is that people didn’t want to write anything down since they were trying not to leave a trail. This story was an exception because Noor Inayat Khan was member of the Secret Operations Executive, which made a point of recording everything. Since its members reported directly to Winston Churchill, they kept an accurate record of everything.
Who is the primary audience of the film and why?
While we don’t produce films for a specific demographic, we find that they are most popular with three major audiences: mainstream Americans, high school and college classrooms, as well as community centers and houses of worship. The Muslim community uses our films in mosques in educational settings. We especially hope young Muslims will benefit from sharing stories like Noor Inayat Khan’s that bring to light Muslim heroes in all walks of life. It’s something that is often missing for Muslim youth in schools, books, and other media. There are many films about American heroes but not many good films about heroic people who happen to be Muslim.
How can Noor Inayat Khan’s story relate to the situation and struggles of American Muslims today?
It is a story of fortitude and courage. The irony of her story is that while she fought the racism of the Nazis, in her youth she was subjected to racism in France, and before her, her Indian father was forced to flee America because of racism. Despite this, she always drew from her faith and values to do the right thing. She is an inspiration.
The New Jersey premiere is Sunday, May 4th at 3pm at the historic State Theater located at 15 Livingston Ave, New Brunswick, NJ. Tickets on sale now.