Thanks to the hard work of Yvonne Dixon, Latifa Shahab Laker and Gulrukh Patel, an inspired Interfaith Service was held at Springhill Prison on October 25th 2012. The service took place in conjunction with the unveiling of a new Gym built entirely by the prisoners and dedicated to Noor Inayat Khan in recognition of her heroic deeds during World War Two.
Springhill was the training centre for the Special Operations Executive during the war and where all of Noor’s radio transmissions from occupied Paris, would have been received. In 1953 Springhill became the first open prison in the UK and is now a resettlement prison where detainees are prepared for re-entry into society. Yvonne is acting chaplain there and initiated talks with the Governor about offering an Interfaith Service called a Universal Worship Service in honour of Noor. During preliminary discussions he came up with the idea of dedicating the gym as a tribute to her. Naturally we were all delighted that the prison had taken Noor’s story into its heart.
The service was conducted in the presence of prisoners, guests and members of the UK Sufi Order. Guests and prisoners from different faiths were invited to participate by reciting scriptures from their respective traditions. One of the prisoners also made an offering from Noor’s Jataka Tales.Read more
Shrabani Basu, the tour de force behind the Noor un Nisa statue campaign joined us and opened the evening with a short talk on Noor’s life. Shrabani enthralled the prisoners with stories of Noor’s bravery and astonishing resilience.
The service honoured the different faith with readings, music and a candle being lit for each of the faiths. During the service we were encouraged to reflect upon our unique lives. Gulrukh gave a most inspiring sermon in which she conveyed Noor’s last word ‘liberte’. She then asked us all to contemplate what our last words might be. Then, once we’d recognised them, to enquire whether our lives were being lived in alignment with these words. Gazing around the room, I saw many eyes lighting up at this invitation. I then felt the power of participating in this self-enquiry together.
The feedback from the prisoners and staff was really positive; they remarked what a great opportunity it was for all to share in Noor’s inspirational story and that having the Universal Worship Service had illustrated the need and possibility of further interfaith dialogue.
Michael Kenton, who was a driving force behind the service, shared some anecdotes with me; apparently the governor had said that if any of the audience had wished to walk out at any time they certainly could have, so clearly everyone enjoyed the experience. He added to that, considering Spurs and Liverpool were playing that night he was most surprised that so many prisoners attended.
I circulated amongst the prisoners during the refreshments and received many questions and compliments about the service.
Britain’s first memorial to an Asian woman.
Two weeks later during remembrance week, the unveiling of a bust of Noor Inayat Khan by HRH The Princess Royal in London’s Gordon Square took place. The Khan family once lived on the square and Noor would have strolled in its gardens. Veterans of both the SOE and WAAF including Irene Warner, 91, who trained with Noor, were among the 300 who came out to honour her.
This momentous occasion was the result of 2 years of fundraising and campaigning by Shrabani Basu and her collaborators, whom she lovingly calls ‘Team Noor’. Shrabani in her welcoming address thanked all the supporters for bringing Noor back to Gordon Square, and then invited Princess Anne to conduct ceremonious proceedings.
After the unveiling, which was met with great applause, Princess Anne honoured Noor’s sacrifice saying stories such as Noor’s are ‘remarkable in their own right’ but have a real connection to make with the modern age through their ‘multi-cultural aspect’. HRH added that she hoped that the statue would serve as a reminder, encouraging people to ask; who was she? Why she was there? And, what could be achieved in her memory?
A deeply moving closing message from Hidayat Inayat-Khan then followed, read with great tenderness by his grandson Omar Inayat Khan. In his address Pia Hidayat paid tribute to his beloved sister’s passionate call for liberty for which she paid the ultimate price. He appealed to us to keep at heart the great ideals of harmony, which are so much needed in this troubled world today. A world in which concepts of human rights have not yet been understood by all as being the only truest guaranty for an everlasting peace among nations..
To close a single bugle played the last post followed by a poignant silence.
Sheikh ul Masheikh Mahmood Khan and his wife Harunissa came from their home in the Netherlands to be present. In an interview he commented; ‘Everyone – British, Indian and beyond – can take pride in what Noor did.”
It’s difficult to convey my feelings surrounding this occasion as at times I was overcome with emotion, but perhaps I could best describe the atmosphere as being pervaded with the dignity, courage, graciousness and nobility of soul that was Noor’s very essence.
Adapted by Michael Kenton from an article by Anne Marie Terry