Bilal Ibn Rabah, the first Muazzin of Islam, was one of the most trusted and loyal companions of Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). He was a true model of the morals and customs of Islam. He cherished unbounded love for the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) and was deeply devoted to Islam. He was a staunch foe of the infidels and idolaters but this involved no personal feelings. He held the infidels in deep contempt because they were the enemies of Islam and the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.).
He is, generally, known as "BILAL HABASHI", but actually his features were not identical with those of the Habashi or Zangi. His complexion was black but his hair was not curly, it was thick. Actually, his complexion was dark-brown. His body was tall and slim and his chest prominent. His cheeks were thin but his nose was not snub. Thus, as the historians opine, he was not a pure Abyssinian. His father was an Arab but his mother was an Abyssinian. His fathers name was Rabah and his mother was called Hamama. It is likely that Hamama was a slave girl from Mecca or Sarat, Sarat is a town between Yemen and Abyssinia. Some of the historians claim that he was born at Mecca, but the majority of the historians opine that Bilal was born in Sarat, and the latter view seem to be acceptable for there could be a mixed race in Sarat. There is also a difference of opinion about his date of birth. According to some of the historians he was born 53 years before Hijra but according to some others, he was born about 43 year before Hijra, and this latter view seems to be preferable.
Bilal (R.A.A.) was brought up at Mecca, in a well known Quraishi tribe called Abu Jamah. During the Days of Ignorance, the members of this tribe were thought as experts in palmistry- reading the lines of hands. They also drew out lots with the help of arrows. This tribe had a constant dispute with Banu Abd Manaf because, when there was a conflict between Banu Abd Manaf and Banu Abd Dar, it had sided with the latter. The other Muazzins of the Prophet (S.A.W.) – Abu Mahzura and Amr bin Umm Kulsum -were also brought up in the tribe Abu Jamah. It is difficult to state whether it was a mere chance or it was due to melody and harmony of voice.
It is not known with authenticity as to who amongst the tribe of Banu Jamah was the master of Bilal and his father. Some have written that he was the slave of a noble woman of that tribe, while others claim that a widow related to Abu Jahl was his mistress. Again, some others have written that he was the slave of Umaiya bin Khalaf.
Bilal (R.A.A.) had a natural hatred against the customs and practices prevailing in the Days of Ignorance. The people in those days were devoid of good morals, kindness and of other human values, deceit had become their second nature.
Allah had endowed Bilal with righteous nature and he remained true to it in his whole life. It is, therefore, held that he readily responded to the call of Allah's Messenger (S.A.A.) when he came out with the Message of Oneness or Unity of Allah. It is an established fact that Bilal (R.A.A.) had not embraced Islam with any worldly motive or securing relief from the torments of slave life. On the contrary by accepting Islam, he had invited upon himself torment of double even treble intensity. He had only one purpose in view and that was to win the favor of Allah. Allah had illuminated his heart with the light of faith. Hence he endured all kinds of atrocities with remarkable patience and fortitude. It was in accord with his nature to accept the Truth unreservedly. As soon as he heard the clarion call for the acceptance of faith in One Allah and the equality of all human beings issued by the noblest personality of the most respectable family, Banu Hashim, he at once made an affirmative response. His heart was as clean as mirror, it was filled with the sentiments of affection, sincerity, obedience and devotion. The thought crossed his mind like a flash of lightning that the person who wanted to liquidate class differences in order to put the master and slave equal, was a man who belongs to the noblest class in Mecca. Yet he was a staunch champion of the equality of all human being, could not be but the Truthful Messenger and the Prophet of the Creator. He must have thought that it was impossible for a person, who enjoyed exceeding popularity in the whole of Mecca and commanded deep respect from the rank and file of Mecca, to risk to the loss of his popularity and reputation unless this person was the Messenger of the Lord who makes no discrimination between the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the Arab and the non-Arab.
Those who accepted Islam in the beginning were, except few, generally weak and helpless. They had no supporters or sympathizers. So the infidels inflicted endless human tortures on them. Tying ropes to the legs of the Muslims, they dried them on the stony ground of the desert. They stripped the poor Muslims need and throwing them on the burning sand and often on red embers, placed heavy stones on their bodies. They forced them to stand in the blazing sun. Bilal too was tortured like that, They wanted him to make statement which suited the infidels purpose But he displayed unflinching self-control, patience and perseverance. They employed all sorts of cruelties to divert Bilal from the True Faith but could not succeed. There was no form of threat which was not held nut to him, and there was no form of torture which the infidels did not execute on him, but Bilal (R.A.A.) on the face of all this, held firm to his faith. In reply to all of their coercion and tortures he said, "There is none to be worshiped but Allah." Bilals master Umaiya Bin Khalaf was his greatest tormentor. In spite of all these tortures Bilal would utter, Ahad, Ahad (Allah is One, Allah is One), When the tormentors demanded of him to respect what they said, Bilal would reply, "No, my tongue is not supposed to utter what you say."
According to historical records, Bilal's master often tied him and threw him down and flung a stone and cow hide over him and said, "Your gods are Lat and Uzza so testify your faith in them." But he continued to say "Ahad, Ahad." The infidels tied a rope round his neck and allowed the street urchins to drag him to and from between the two hills of Mecca. Even, under this severe torment, Bilal's tongue repeated only one word "Ahad, Ahad." Thereupon, the infidels gave him a severe heating and stretched him on the burning Sand.A heavy stone was placed over his body, still he uttered nothing save the word "Ahad, Ahad."
One day Abu Bakr Siddiq saw the heart touching plight of Bilal (R.A A.) and he came to his rescue. "How long will you oppress this poor fellow?" said Abu Bakr to Bilal's master and bought him paying ten Uqia (about 23 grams of Gold) to his master. Siddiq then declared Bilal (R.A.A.) a free man. By enduring all sorts of atrocities and humiliations in the path of love for Allah and His Prophet, Bilal (R.A.A.) set an example and a beacon light till the end of this world, for the seekers after Truth and Righteousness. He knew well the consequences of renouncing idol-worship and offering devotion to One God Allah, yet so deep was the imprint of the righteous life and the unparalleled good morals of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) upon his heart that no degree of savage oppression and violence could blot it out.
Some historian state that when the price for Bilal was being paid, Bilal's master increased the price from 7 Uqias to 9 Uqias and Abu Bakr said to him, "Even if you raise the price to 1000 Uqias, I will definitely buy him."
It is stated that Siddiq bought Bilal at the advice of Allah's Messenger (S.A.W.) and the Prophet (S.A.W.) also offered him half of the price in order to mitigate the burden of Siddiq. But Siddiq begged pardon from the Prophet (S.A.W.) for not accepting this offer and he himself emancipated Bilal. He then appointed Bilal (R.A.A .) as his own store-keeper. Later on Bilal was made to serve to the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.). When the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) granted permission to his companions to migrate, Bilal, along with the other companions of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.), migrated to Medina. In Medina Bilal lived in the same house with Abu Bakr Siddiq and Aamir bin-Fahria. In Medina when the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) established the bond of brotherhood between the Muhajireen (Migrants) and Ansar (Helpers), Bilal and Abu Rouwaiha (R.A.A.) were brothers unto each other. This clarifies that Abu Rouwaiha (R.A.A.) was not the blood brother of Bilal (R.A.A.)
As in Mecca, so in Medina, Bilal could not endure separation from the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.).He always accompanied the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) in all the Holy wars that look place during the Holy Prophet lifetime. He also remained with the Prophet (S.A.W.) in the course of all journeys he undertook. It was for this reason that he was appointed the first Muslim of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.).
Bilal (R.A.A.) continued to the post of Muazzin of the Prophets Masjid till the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) left this world for his heavenly abode He was preferred over all the Mauzzins during the Prophets lifetime, the cause of this preference being his precedence in embracing Islam, his rich and melodious voice and his excellent utterance. When he recited the call of prayer and wished to inform the Prophet (S.A.W.) that the time for leading prayer had come, he would stand by the door of the Prophets room and would shout "Hasten to the prayer, Hasten to well-being. O Messenger of Allah, prayer." Hearing his these words the Prophet would come for leading the prayers. Bilal (R.A.A.) would say Iqama before the prayers commenced. While going to Salat-el-Eid or Salat-Istisqa (prayer for rain), Bilal used to walk ahead of the Prophet(S.A.W.) holding a spear and would pitch it on the ground one or two yards away from the place where the Prophet (S.A.W.) wished to lead the congregation of the prayer. The spear was one of those three, sent by the King of Abyssinia in homage to the Prophet(S.A.W.), The Prophet (S.A.W.), gifted one of the three spears to Umar (R.A.A.) and kept the third one with himself, Thus Bilal had the honor of keeping the Prophets spear throughout his lifetime.
Traditions relate that Bilal's marriage had been arranged by the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) himself. It is stated that the sons of Abul Bukair one day came to the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) and said, "0 Messenger of Allah, find a match for our sister. "The Holy Prophet observe, "Why do you not marry her to Bilal ?" Hearing this they went back, but after a few days they came again and repeated the same request, and the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) gave the same reply. Thus after a few days they came third time with the same request. This time also the Prophet (S.A.W.) giving the same reply added, "Bilal is an inmate of Paradise; you should marry your sister to him." So, having heard the Prophets advice, they married their sister to Bilal. Bilal (R.A.A.) took more wives after this marriage. According to Qatadah he had married a lady of the tribe of Banu Zuhra. It is also recorded that one of his wives was Hin-ul-Khulania who belonged to Yemen. Bilal had no issue from any of his wives.
Once Bilal related to his wife a tradition of the Holy Prophet(S.A.W.) but his wife expressed some doubts about the authenticity of his report. Bilal in a mood of anger went to the Prophet (S.A.W.) and recounted his dispute with his wife. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) went with him to his house and observed to his wife, "You should take Bilal's words for any tradition of mine, and do not give him cause for anger."
Bilal (R.A.A.) had given up announcing Azan after the demise of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.). He cherished such deep love for the Prophet (S.A W.) that he could not bear the thought of announcing the call after his demise. In fact he used to announce especially for his Master, the Prophet (S.A.W.), in response to which the Prophet (S.A.W.) would arrive for prayer. During his stay in Medina and Syria, after the demise of the HoIy Prophet (S.A.W.), people made entreaties to him on several occasions to call the Azan, but he always declined, except once when Umar (R.A.A.) had visited Damascus and had requested Bilal to call the Azan. He complied with the request of the Caliph, and this was the last call that he delivered in his lifetime. As soon as the news got around that Bilal would deliver the Azan for the dawn prayer, a great excitement was observed among the people . Everyone rushed towards the mosque with great fondness and in frenzied state of mind. As soon as Bilal's voice resounded in the air, it produced a great excitement among the people. They recalled to their imagination the times when the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) was alive and Bilal used to recite the Azan . It is recorded in history that the whole congregation in the mosque burst into tears. Umar (R.A.A.) and the bravest of the warriors of Islam who were present there could not check themselves so all wept.
Some scholars are of the opinion that the present rhythmical form of recital of the Azan in the Muslim world is the same as was originated by Bilal. One thing, however must be clarified in this connection. The Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) had not appointed Bilal as the Muazzin for his masterly rhythm or melody of the rules but it was his exceeding piety, devotion to worship and regular attendance in the mosque that the choice of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) fell on him for the performance of this important duty.
It is reported in the traditions that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) paid close attention to the education and training of Bilal (R.A.A.). Once the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said, "O Bilal, the best deed that a believer can perform is to struggle for the cause of Allah. The Prophet (S.A.W.) also taught him concerning humility "O Bilal always live in humility and with contentment and die with those who feel contented."
The Prophet (S.A.W.), off and on gave him instructions concerning distribution of the surplus wealth with him i.e. the Prophet (S.A.W.) would say, "Bilal, a quantity of wealth has accumulated with me I do not wish to keep it, so take it and give it away to the needy so that my heart may be alleviated from its burden " Actually the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) intended to teach Bilal by example how a man should cultivate the virtue of contentment in life and abstain from wealth. Bilal observed with great attention all the instructions and precedent of the Holy Prophet and proved to he a true follower and a devotee of the Prophet (S.A.W.) till the end of his life. He was in constant attendance on the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) day and night, because he derived delight from the sight, love and kindness. He performed the duties of an attendant upon the Holy Prophet in all circumstances, during journeys and stay in camp, in war and peace, but was never treated like a servant by the Prophet (S.A.W.), Bilal expressed deep devotion for his master and leader, He could not bear even the slightest discomfort of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and was alive ready to respond to his masters call. Throughout the battles he kept running between the Prophets camp and the battlefield, bearing communications , orders and instructions from the Prophet (S.A.W.).to the troops when the Prophet (S.A.W.) made a victorious entry into the city of Mecca and the Prophet(S.A.W.) entered Holy Kaba, there were three men. accompanying him and one of them was Bilal (R.A.A.), the other two were Usman-bin-Talha , the key-bearer of Kaba and Usman bin Zaid (R.A.A.). Bilal performed the duty of reciting the call to prayer.
He recited the Azan for a few days only after the demise of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and then requested Abu Bakr Siddiq(R.A.A.) the Caliph to release him of the duty of calling Azan, and grant him leave to go to Syria with the Mujahideen (soldiers). It is stated that when in the absence of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) he pronounced the name of the Prophet while calling the Azan ,he could not bear the absence of his master and burst into uncontrollable tears . His audience too, stricken with grief, broke down. He felt oppressed in Medina without the Prophet, so in spite of being sixty years of age, he resolved to forsake his peaceful life in Medina and devote rest of his days to holy war in far-away lands. He then participated in a number of battles. He then went to his small piece of land in the suburbs of Damascus, which he cultivated and lived on its produce. It is not known how long Bilal(R.A.A.) remained in the company of Abu Bakr(R.A.A).
After the reign of the first Caliph, Bilal was assigned some state duties. It is recorded in history that when the second Caliph Umar Bin Khattab (R.A.A.) called upon Khalid ibn Al Waleed - the Sword of Allah- to explain in connection with some of his alleged irregularities and errors, it was Bilal who took off Khalids turban from his head and tied his hands with if in open assembly and did not untie him until Khalid (R.A.A.) had furnished a satisfactory explanation of all the charges made against him. After this he offered his sincere apology to Khalid (R.A.A.).
There is another episode that reveals the high esteem in which Bilal was held by Umar. It is stated that one day Abu shufyan-bin-Harb, Suhail- bin-Amr and some other prominent Arab Chiefs came to the Caliph for an interview. By chance Bilal and Sahib (an ex-slave) also arrived to meet the Caliph. When Umar learnt of their arrival he called in Bilal and Sohaib at once and the Arab Chiefs, who had come earlier, stood waiting outside. Abu Sufyan could not restrain himself turning to his companions he remarked, "It was our fate to endure this disgrace. The slaves are admitted to audience while we the nobles of Arabia stay at the door."
Hearing this remark Suhail Bin Amr retorted, "But who is to be blamed for this? The Messenger of Allah invited us all with one voice but we refuted his call and offered severe resistance to him . On the other hand these slaves came forward and made a positive response. It is their right now to get preference over us in this world and the next. We have no cause for complaint"
During the Caliphate of Umar (R.A.A.), when the registers of salaries and allowances were being prepared, the Caliph dispatched a letter to Bilal – who was with the army in Syria - asking him to intimate with whom his name should be entered.
"Enter my name with Abu Rouwaiha whom I shall never abandon on account of the fraternal bond established by the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) between him and me," replied Bilal (R.A.A.).
Except the episodes mentioned above, history furnishes no further record of his life after the demise of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.), It is recorded that he had joined the Muslim Army in the Holy War in Syria. But he had completely dissociated himself from the public life in the closing phase of his life, As we have stated above, he acquired a piece of land in the outskirts of Damascus and passed his days in peace and isolation, After this nothing was heard about him but he was seen in public when he called Azan for the Caliph Umar (R.A.A.) on the request of the eminent companions of the Prophet (S.A.W.).
It was the year 20 of Hijra when Bilal (R.A.A.) expired in Damascus. He was seventy when he died. He died of epidemic like plague. It is stated that he was of the same age as was Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.A.). On his deathbed he was very glad at the prospect of meeting his master, the Prophet (S.A.W.) and his companions who had already gone to the next world. When his wife cried out by his bedside and began to weep bitterly, he comforted her saying:
"Do not cry. Why do you weep! l am looking forward to see my master, the Prophet (S.A.W.) and other companions after such a long reparation. If Allah wills I shall meet them all tomorrow." And he really expired the day after, "Innalillah-e-Wa Inna Ilai-he-Raje-oon."
He was buried in Damascus, near Bab-as-Sagheer. His tomb is even today the favorite resort of crowds of visitors, People, high and low, come to offer prayers (Fateha) at his grave.
Among the people Bilals credibility was e high that they would rather disbelieve their own eyes Than cast doubts on Bilals report of any Tradition of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.), because he paid the greatest regard to truth in all matters concerning the action or precepts of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W,), as well as in the affairs of others. When Abu Rouwaiha (R.A.A.) his brother-in-Islam, wanted to contract marriage with a lady of a respectable tribe, he requested Bilal to intercede on his behalf. Bilal went with him and told in clear terms to the guardians of the bride, "I am Bilal-bin-Ribah and this is my brother Abu Rouwaiha, who wants to establish matrimonial relation with you. So, I must point out that he is a very hot-tempered a man. It is up to you to give your daughter in marriage to him or refuse." Hearing this clear-cut testimony of Bilal the parents of the ady accepted the proposal of Abu Rouwaiha (R.A.A.), for they could not disregard Bilals recommendation.
Seeing the various aspects of Bilal's life we come to the clear conclusion that the most prominent feature of his life was his complete honesty and integrity. It was on this account that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) had entrusted to Bilal the management of the Baitul Mal (State Treasury). He was also in charge of the house hold of the Prophet (S.A.W.). He remained close at hand even at the time of the Prophets departure for heavenly home and was included among the selected few who performed the funeral rites of the Prophet (S.A.W.). It was Bilal who sprinkled water from a skin-bag over the sepulchre of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.), and thus, gained the rare privilege of administering the last funeral rites.
Bilal, because of his sincerity, was an extremist by nature. He loved intensely and hated intensely. He loved intensely Allah and His Prophet (S.A.W.) and was deeply devoted to Islam, but he was, at the same time, a staunch foe of the infidels and polytheists, and he never tried to hide his feelings and contempt for them.
Bilal (R.A.A.) left no legacy in the form of material wealth or offsprings, but he left a spiritual memorial which is unique in the world, that is Azan. The call to prayer has been recited continuously in the world, for the last fourteen hundred years of Islam, and as the people hear the call it recalls to mind the memory of the First Muazzin of Islam, Bilal bin Rabah (Radia Allahu Anhu).
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