Bilal ibn Rabah (may Allah bless him) is one of the most illustrious names in the Islamic history. A Negro slave originally from Habasha (Ethiopia), Bilal is an evident story of Islam’s respect for human equality, anti-racism and social equity.
Born in 680CE in Makkah, to his slave parents — Rabah and Hamamah — Bilal too served as slave to a lady close to Umayyah ibn Khalaf, an arch enemy of Islam.
When Umayyah heard about Bilal converting to Islam, he tortured him and forced him to relinquish the new faith. But filled with love of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Islam, Bilal remained steadfast in his faith despite extreme torture and kept saying “Ahad, Ahad.” (Allah is One, Allah is One).
When the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) learned about his tribulation, he sent Abu Bakr, who bought him from the oppressor and freed him. The freedom was Islam’s first gift to Bilal. Second Caliph Omar ibn Khattab honored him by calling him as Sayyedna (our leader).
Bilal became one of the most trusted and loyal companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was among the first few persons to embrace Islam.
Bilal migrated with the Prophet to Madinah and participated in major battles including those of Badar, Ohud, Khandaq and others. In the battle of Badr, he killed the staunch enemy of Islam — and his own former tyrant master — Umayyah.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the first to declare equality among human beings in the annals of world history 1,400 years ago. In the presence of over 120,000 companions during Haj, he declared: O people! Your Lord is one Lord, and you all share the same father (Adam). Indeed, there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab or of a non-Arab over an Arab; or of a white over a black; nor a black over a white, except by taqwa (righteousness).
The Prophet selected Bilal to be one of his distinguished companions. Bilal’s rise to a position of prominence in Islam is evidence of the importance of pluralism and racial equality in Islam.
Once Abdullah bin Ziyad narrated that he had a dream advising him the method and words of Azaan (the call to prayer), the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) liked it and Bilal was deputed to call the first Azaan in Madinah in those words. When Omar heard the Azaan, he rushed to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and told him that he also had dreamt Azaan with the same wording. And thus the Azaan was established through Bilal. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) appointed him as the Muazzine Rasool (Calling to prayers on behalf of the Prophet).
As he was the first African to embrace Islam, the African Muslims still feel pride of that honor, which was bestowed on an African.
Another great honor came to Bilal after the Conquest of Makkah in 8 AH. When the city surrendered and all the nobles from the Muslims and the non-Muslims were standing in the courtyard, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) asked Bilal to climb the roof of the Holy Kaaba and give a call of Azaan from the top of it. This was the first Azaan, which was given in Makkah Mukarramah.
Such was Bilal’s devotion to Islam and piety that he rose to such heights of spiritual attainment.
Once the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “O Bilal, what special deeds you have done that I heard sounds of your walking steps ahead of me in Paradise.” Bilal said, “Whenever I make Wudu (ablution), I offer two units (rakah) of prayer as Tahayyatul Wudu.” Bilal was among Ashab Al-Suffa. The term, Ashab Al-Suffa, is a generic name given to the companions who stayed in the arbor, or veranda, next to the mosque of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madinah after the emigration and studied religious sciences there.
Since Bilal had this honor of being among Suffa, he collected many Hadiths (sayings) of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). Some 20 scholars formed part of Ashab Al-Suffa that included Osama bin Zaid, Bara bin Azeb and Abdullah bin Omar.
When King Najashi of Habasha sent three spears as gift to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), he gave one each to Omar, Ali and Bilal, who used the spear to fix for the direction of prayer.
After the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) passed away, Bilal felt it difficult to spend time in Madinah without his beloved Prophet (peace be upon him). He asked then Caliph Abu Bakr to let him go to Syria for jihad. And there he spent the rest of his life. He made azaan only twice since then. The first was when Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab came to Syria and the second time when he visited the tomb of Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madinah. Upon hearing his voice, people started to cry, for it reminded them of the days of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Bilal left Madinah for Syria (then Sham) and stayed there. When Caliph Omar visited Bait Al -Maqdis (Jerusalem), he requested Bilal to call Azaan which he accepted. And when he called Azaan, the companions wept bitterly remembering the olden days. It is said that Caliph Omar cried and wept as he never wept before.
When Bilal was in Syria, he saw the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) in dream, saying, “O Bilal, What is that, you did not visit me.” Bilal was worried; he rushed to Madinah and offered his tributes and greetings at the grave of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) weeping and rubbing his face with the grave.
When he saw Hassan and Husain, the grandsons of the Prophet, he rushed to embrace them. On their request, Bilal said Azaan with a shaking voice and tearing eyes. On hearing Bilal’s azaan, the people rushed to the Prophet’s Mosque. This was his last Azaan in Madinah.
Bilal spent his last days in Syria. He died in 18 AH at the age of 64, and was buried at Bab-Al Sagheer near Jama Umavi in Damascus. He served the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) for 25 years.
Islam raised him to the status that one of the strongmen like Omar bin Khattab addressed him as Saiyydana (our leader).
While on death bed, his wife Hind cried, ‘wa hazanaa’ (what a great grief), to which Bilal replied, ‘Wa Tarabaa’ (what a great joy); “Tomorrow I will meet with my loved ones — Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions,” he is said to have told his wife.