Bilal Ibn Rabah (ra) was the first announcer of the time of Muslim prayer and the troublemaker to the idols. He was one of the miracles of faith and truthfulness, one of Islam’s great miracles. For out of every ten Muslims, from the beginning of Islam until today and until Allah wills, we will meet seven, at least, who know Bilal. That is, there are hundreds of millions of people throughout the centuries and generations who know Bilal, remember his name, and know his role just as they know the two greatest Caliphs in Islam, Abu Bakr (ra) and Umar (ra)!
Before Islam, Bilal was no more than a slave who tended herds of camels for his master for a handful of dates. Had it not been for Islam, it would have been his fate to remain a slave, wandering among the crowd until death brought an end to his life and caused him to perish in the profoundest depths of forgetfulness.
However, his faith proved to be true, and the magnificence of the religion which he believed in gave him, during his lifetime and in history, an elevated place among the great and holy men of Islam. Indeed, many human beings of distinction, prestige, or wealth have not obtained even one-tenth of the immortality which Bilal the Abyssinian slave gained.
Indeed, the black colour of his complexion, his modest lineage, and his contemptible position among people as a slave did not deprive him, when he chose to embrace Islam, of occupying the high place which his truthfulness, certainty, purity, and self-sacrifice qualified him for. For him, all this would not have been on the scale of estimation and honour except as an astonishing occurrence when greatness is found where it could not possibly be.
The news of Muhammad’s (saw) call began and reached his ears when people in Makkah began to talk about it and when he began listening to the discussions of his master and his guests, especially Umayah lbn Khalaf, one of the elders of the Bani Jumah, of which Bilal was one of the slaves. How often did he hear Urnayah talking to his friends for some time and to some persons of his tribe. Many times they talked about the Messenger with words that were overflowing with anxiety, rage, and malice!
Bilal, on the other hand, was receiving between those words of insane fury and rage the attributes of this new religion. He began to feel that they were new qualities for the environment which he lived in. He was also able to receive during their threatening, thunderous talks their acknowledgement of Muhammad’s nobility, truthfulness, and loyalty. Yes indeed, he heard them wondering and amazed at what Muhammad came with. They said to one another, ‘Muhammad was never a liar, magician, or mad, but we have to describe him this way until we turn away from him those who rush to his religion.’
He heard them talking about his honesty and loyalty, about his manliness and nobility, and about his purity and composure of his intelligence. He heard them whispering about the reasons which caused them to challenge and antagonize him: First, their allegiance to the religion of their fathers; Second, their fear over the glory of the Quraish which was bestowed upon them because of their religious status as a centre of idol worship and resort in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula; Third, the envy of the tribe of Bani Hashim that anyone from them should claim to be a prophet or messenger.
One day Bilal Ibn Rabah recognized the light of Allah and heard His resonance in the depths of his good soul. So he went to the Messenger of Allah and converted to Islam. It did not take long before the news of his embracing Islam was spread. It was a shock to the chiefs of the Bani Jumah, who were very proud and conceited. The devils of the earth sat couched over the breast of Umayah Ibn Khalaf, who considered the acceptance of Islam by one of their slaves a blow that overwhelmed them with shame and disgrace.
Bilal gave a profound lesson to those of his age and every age, for those of his religion and every religion, a lesson which embraced the idea that freedom and supremacy of conscience could not be bartered either for gold or punishment, even if it filled the earth. He was stripped naked and laid on hot coals to make him renounce his religion, but he refused.
The Messenger (saw) and Islam made this weak Abyssinian slave a teacher to all humanity in the art of respecting conscience and defending its freedom and supremacy. His torturers used to take him out in the midday heat when the desert turned to a fatal hell. Then they would throw him naked on its scorching rocks and bring a burning hot rock, which took several men to lift from its place, and throw it onto his body and chest. This savage torture was repeated every day until the hearts of some of his executioners took pity on him. Finally, they agreed to set him free on condition that he would speak well of their gods, even with only one word that would allow them to keep their pride so that the Quraish would not say they had been defeated and humiliated by the resistance of their persevering slave.
But even this one word, which he could eject from outside his heart and with it buy his life and soul without losing his faith or abandoning his conviction, Bilal refused to say. Instead he began to repeat his lasting chant: ‘One… One!’ His torturers shouted at him, imploring him, ‘Mention the name of Al-Laat and Al-‘Uzza.’ But he answered, ‘One . . . One’ They said to him, ‘Say as we say.’ But he answered them with remarkable mockery and caustic irony, ‘Indeed my tongue is not good at that.’
Abu Bakr As-Siddiq went to them while they were torturing him and shouted at them, ‘Are you killing a man because he says, ‘Allah is my Lord?” Then he shouted at Umayah lbn Khalaf, ‘Take more than his price and set him free.’ It was as if Umayah were drowning and had caught a lifeboat. It was to his liking and he was very much pleased when he heard Abu Bakr offering the price of his freedom, since they had despaired of subjugating Bilal. And as they were merchants, they realized that selling him was more profitable to them than his death.
They sold him to Abu Bakr, and then he emancipated him immediately, and Bilal took his place among free men. When As-Siddiq put his arm round Bilal, rushing with him to freedom, Umayah said to him, ‘Take him, for by Al-Laat and Al-‘ Uzza if you had refused to buy him except for one ounce of gold, I would have sold him to you.’ Abu Bakr realized the bitterness of despair and disappointment hidden in these words. It was appropriate not to answer, but because they violated the dignity of this man who had become his brother and his equal, he answered Umayah saying, ‘By Allah, if you had refused to sell him except for a hundred ounces, I would have paid it.’ He departed with his companion to the Messenger of Allah, giving him news of his liberation, and there was a great celebration.
After the Hijrah of the Messenger (saw) and the Muslims to Al-Medina and their settling there, the Messenger instituted the Adhaan. So who would become the muezzin five times a day? Who would call across distant lands, ‘Allah is the Greatest’ and ‘There is no god but Allah’?
It was Bilal, who had shouted thirteen years before while the torture was destroying him, ‘Allah is One… One.’ He was chosen by the Messenger that day to be the first muezzin in Islam. With his melodious soul-stirring voice, he filled the hearts with faith and the ears with awe when he called:
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest I bear witness that there is no god but Allah I bear witness that there is no god but Allah I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah Come to Prayer
Come to Prayer Come to Success Come to Success Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest There is no god but Allah
Fighting broke out between the Muslims and the army of the Quraish who came to invade Al- Medina. The war raged fiercely and terribly while Bilal was there attacking and moving about in the first battle. Islam was plunged into the Battle of Badr, whose motto the Messenger (saw) ordered to be, ‘One… One.’
In this battle, the Quraish sacrificed their youth and all their noblemen to their destruction. Umayah Ibn Khalaf, who had been Bilal’s master and who used to torture him with deadly brutality, was about to retreat from fighting. But his friend Uqbah Ibn Abu Mu’it went to him when he heard the news of his withdrawal, carrying a censer in his right hand. When he arrived he was sitting among his people. He threw the censer between his hands and said to him, ‘O Abu ‘Ally, use this. You are one of the women.’ But Umayah shouted at him saying, ‘May Allah make you and what you came with ugly!’ And he did not find a way out, so he went out to fight.
What other secrets does destiny conceal and unfold? ‘Uqbah Ibn Abu Mu’it had been the greatest supporter of Umayah in the torture of Bilal and other weak Muslims. And on that day, he himself was the one who urged him to go to the Battle of Badr where he would die, just as it would be the place where Uqbah would die! Umayah had been one of the shirkers from war. Had it not been for what Uqbah did to him, he would not have gone out fighting.
But Allah executes His command. So let Umayah go out, because there was an old account between him and one of the slaves of Allah. It was time to settle it. The Judge never dies. As you owe, you shall be owed to.
Indeed destiny would be very much pleased to mock the tyrants. Uqbah, whose provocations Umayah used to listen to and follow his desire to torture the innocent believers, was the same person who would lead Umayah to his death. By the hand of Bilal himself and Bilal alone! The same hands that Umayah used to chain and whose owner he beat and tortured. Those very hands were on that day, in the Battle of Badr, on a rendezvous that destiny had set the best time for, with the torture of the Quraish who had humiliated the believers unjustly and aggressively. That is what really happened.
When the fighting began between the two sides, and the side of the Muslims shouted the motto, ‘One . . . One,’ the heart of Umayah was startled, and a warning came to him. The word which his slave used to repeat yesterday under torture and horror became today the motto of a whole religion and of a whole new nation.
The swords clashed in the battle and the fighting became severe. As the battle neared its end, Umayah lbn Khalaf noticed Abd Ar Rahman Ibn Awf, the Companion of the Messenger of Allah. He sought refuge with him and asked to be his captive, hoping to save his life. Abd Ar-Rahman accepted his supplication and granted him refuge. Then he took him and walked with him amidst the battle to the place where captives were held.
On the way Bilal noticed him and shouted, ‘The head of kuft (disbelief), Umayah lbn Khalaf! May I not be saved if he is saved!’ he lifted up his sword to cut off the head which was all the time full of pride and arrogance. But Abd Ar-Rahman Ibn Awf shouted at him, ‘O Bilal, he is my captive!’ A captive while the war was still raging? A captive while his sword was still dripping blood because of what he had been doing just moments before to the bodies of the Muslims? No! In Bilal’s opinion, this was irony and abuse of the mind, and Umayah had scoffed and abused the mind enough. He scoffed until there was no irony remaining for such a day, such a dilemma, and such a fate!
Bilal realized that he would not be able alone to storm the sanctuary of his brother in faith, Abd Ar-Rahman Ibn Awf. So he shouted at the top of his voice to the Muslims, ‘O helpers of Allah! The head of Kufr, Umayah Ibn Khalaf! May I not be saved if he is saved!’ A band of Muslims approached with swords dripping blood. They surrounded Umayah and his son, who was fighting with the Quraish. Abd Ar-Rahman Ibn Awf could not do anything. He could not even protect his armour which the crowd removed. Bilal gazed long at the body of Umayah, who fell beneath the smashing swords. Then he hastened away from him shouting, ‘One… One.’
The days went by and Makkah was conquered. The Messenger SAW entered it, thankful and saying, ‘Allah is the Greatest,’ at the head of 10,000 Muslims. He headed for the Kabah immediately, this holy place which the Quraish had crowded with idols amounting to the number of days of the year. ‘The truth has come and falsehood has vanished.’
Ever since that day, there has been no Uzza, no Laat and no Hubal. Man will not bow to a rock or idol after today. People will worship no one with all his conscience but Allah, Who has no likeness, the One, Most Great, Most High. The Messenger (saw) entered the Kabah accompanied by Bilal. He had hardly entered it when he faced a carved idol representing Ibrahim AS prophesying with sticks.
The Messenger (saw) was angry and said, ‘May Allah kill them. Our ancestor never did prophesy with sticks. Ibrahim was not a Jew or Christian, but he was a true Muslim and was never a polytheist.’ Then he ordered Bilal to ascend to the top of the mosque and call to Prayer, and Bilal called the Adhaan. How magnificent was the time, place, and occasion!
Life came to a standstill in Makkah, and thousands of Muslims stood like motionless air, repeating in submissiveness and whispering the words of the Adhaan after Bilal while the polytheists were in their homes hardly believing what was happening.
Bilal lived with the Messenger of Allah (saw), witnessing all the battles with him, calling to Prayer and observing the rites of this great religion that took him out of darkness to light and from servitude to freedom. The stature of Islam along with the stature of Muslims was elevated. Every day Bilal was getting closer to the heart of the Messenger of Allah, who used to describe him as ‘one of the inhabitants of Paradise.’
But Bilal remained just as he was, noble and humble, always considering himself ‘the Abyssinian who only yesterday was a slave.’ One day he was proposing to two girls for himself and his brother, so be said to their father, ‘ I am Bilal and this is my brother, two slaves from Abyssinia. We were astray and Allah guided us. We were two slaves and Allah emancipated us. If you agree on us marrying your daughters, all praise is to Allah; if you refuse, then Allah is the Greatest.’
The Messenger passed away to Allah, well pleased and well pleasing, and Abu Bakr As-Siddiq took the command of the Muslims after him. Bilal went to the caliph (successor) of the Messenger of Allah and said to him, ‘O Caliph of the Messenger of Allah, I heard the Messenger of Allah SAW say, ‘The best deed of a believer is jihad in the cause of Allah.’
Abu Bakr said to him, ‘So what do you want, Bilal?’ He said, ‘I want to defend in the cause of Allah until I die.’ Abu Bakr said, ‘And who will call the Adhaan for us?’ Bilal said, with his eyes overflowing with tears, ‘I will not call the Adhaan for anyone after the Messenger of Allah.’ Abu Bakr said, ‘Stay and call to Prayer for us, Bilal.’ Bilal said, ‘If you emancipated me to be for you, I will do what you want, but if you emancipated me for Allah, leave me to Whom I was emancipated for.’ Abu Bakr said, ‘I emancipated you for Allah, Bilal.’
The narrators differ. Some of them believe that he travelled and remained fighting and defending. Some others narrate that he accepted Abu Bakr’s request to stay with him in Medina. When Abu Bakr died and Umar succeeded him, Bilal asked his permission and went to Syria.
Anyhow, Bilal vowed the remaining part of his life to fight in the cause of Islam, determined to meet Allah and His Messenger having done the best deed they love.
His melodious, welcoming, awe-inspiring voice did not call the Adhaan anymore, because whenever he uttered in his Adhaan, ‘I bear witness that Muhammad SAW is the Messenger of Allah,’ memories would stir him, and his voice would vanish under his sadness while the tears cried out the words.
His last Adhaan was during the days Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, when he visited Syria. The Muslims entreated him to persuade Bilal to call one Adhaan for them. The Commander of the Faithful called Bilal when it was time for Prayer and pleaded with him to make the Adhaan. Bilal ascended and did so. The Companions of the Messenger of Allah SAW who were with the Commander of the Faithful while Bilal was calling the Adhaan wept as they never did before, and Umar the most strongly.
Bilal died in Syria, fighting in the cause of Allah just as he had wanted. Beneath the dust of Damascus, today there lies the body of one of the greatest men of humankind in standing up for the creed of Islam with conviction.
Source: Khalid, Khalid Muhammad, Men Around the Messenger, Islamic Book Service, 2004