The familiar cries rose once again, echoing in the valleys of Makkah.
Ever since Muhammad (SAW) had started spreading Islam, the poor slaves who accepted the call were brutally tortured by their masters. Everyone knew that Bilal had accepted Islam a few months ago and he was now suffering under Umayyah’s cruelty. Blood on his back, bruises on his arms and legs, dragged on the hot desert ground – such was the life of the Muslim slave.
“Renounce your faith!” Shouted Umayyah, whipping him. “Renounce it now and you shall be free!”
In response, Bilal just repeated what he had been saying all along: “He (Allah) is the One!” Enraged by the stubborn attitude, his master, now in a terrible temper, piled boulders upon his stomach crushing his body to the scorching sand.
But try as he might, Ummayah was unable to break his slave’s trust in Islam. Such was the greatness of Bilal (R.A), that even while he was rolled on the sweltering sand of Makkah, nothing and nobody could break him.
“Bilal should renounce his faith,” said the people. “He will not live long if this torture continues.”
But Bilal would rather die than give up Islam. The Muslims were pained to see him in that state of agony, and extremely amazed at his strength of character. Finally, Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq put an end to his troubles.
He went up to Umayyah and said, “Are you torturing this person because he believes in one God?”
When Umayyah said yes, Abu Bakr (R.A) spoke, “Well then, I want to buy him for 40 dirhams.”
Umayyah roared with laughter at the thought of anyone paying such an extravagant price for a mere servant. But he and the believers of Allah would soon come to know the worth of this brave young man. When the price was set, Abu Bakr (R.A) bought Bilal and immediately set him free. Now that he was away from Ummayah’s cruel treatments of him, Bilal (R.A) devoted all his time to the Prophet’s care.
When it became impossible for Muslims to live in Makkah, Muhammad (S.A.W) ordered them to migrate to Madinah. Bilal (R.A) was one of those who left Makkah and arrived at Madinah as his new home, but he often missed Makkah despite the sufferings he faced there. When they were settled in, the very first thing the Prophet did was to build Masjid Al Nabawi, and when they finished building it, they had a discussion on how to call for prayer. Suggestions came forward, but nothing appealed to Rasul Allah (S.A.W).
One day ‘Abdullah ibn Zayd came to Rasul Allah (SAW) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, I had a dream last night. A man wearing two green garments came to me holding a bell, so I offered to buy it. When he asked me what I wanted it for, I told him that it was to summon people to salah, whereupon he offered to show me a better way. It was to say four times, ‘Allahu Akbar’, then to say twice, ‘ash-shadu alla ilaha Illa Allah’, then twice, ‘ash-hadu anna Muhammad ur-Rasulullah’, then twice, ‘hayyah ‘alas-salah’, then twice, ‘hayyah ‘alal-Falah’, then ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Laa ilaha Illa Allah.’”
“It is a true vision insha’Allah,” said the Prophet, then added, “Go and teach it to Bilal for he has a more beautiful and far-reaching voice.”
And so it happened that the slave who was tortured and dragged on the streets made the first call to prayer in the history of Islam with his golden voice and pure heart. A voice that will forever be associated with the adhaan. Can you imagine a higher honor?
But the peace could not last forever. The Quraysh were furious that the Muslims had their own city and promised to get revenge.
The battle of Badr was an important day in Bilal’s memory. Abd ur-Rahman Bin Auf, who was a friend of Umayyah Ibn Khalaf back in Makkah, was called upon by him when the battle was over and everybody but Umayyah had fled. Umayyah was left behind with his son. Abd ul-Rahman heard Umayyah say that he will pay an enormous amount if only they would set him and his son free. Upon hearing that, Abd ul- Rahman reconsidered and was taking him back, when they encountered Bilal (R.A), who saw Umayyah, and said loudly, “This is the leader of the pagans, Umayyah Bin Khalaf! Now, either I will live, or Umayyah.” Hearing this, all the Ansar rushed over to him and surrounded the two enemies. Umayyah died painfully. He would no longer be able to hurt anyone again.
Bilal (R.A) remained loyal to the Prophet (S.A.W) and stayed by his side through all the battles until the conquest of Makkah. When Makkah was conquered, the Prophet (S.A.W) entered as a humble servant of Allah. He said, “Let all the idols be destroyed, ” then stood at the door of the Ka’bah and recited verses from the Qur’an until he said, “Verily the most noble of you in Allah’s sight is the most pious.” He ordered Bilal (R.A) to sound the adhaan on the rooftop of the Kab’ah. Hearing his voice, a disbeliever exclaimed, “Look at this black man!” not understanding how special and dear Bilal (R.A) was to the Prophet and the rest of the Sahabah. “Umar (R.A) would often say, ‘Abu Bakr is our master and he freed our master (Bilal).’” But Bilal (R.A) would say, “I am only a man who used to be a slave.” He was extremely humble and pious, and loved the Prophet with all his heart.
At the time of Mohammad (Saw)’s death, Bilal (R.A) was asked to give the Adhan. He started saying, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,” but when he came to the name of the Prophet his voice broke and he sobbed in pain from the sadness. His heart was being torn by grief that his beloved Prophet was gone. He swore after that day, “By Allah, I will not say the adhaan anymore.”
Then Bilal asked the Khalifah at the time, Abu Bakr (R.A), to allow him to go to Syria for Jihad, and spent the rest of his life there. He made adhaan only twice after that. The first was when ‘Umar (R.A) came to Syria, and second, when he visited the tomb of the Prophet in Madinah. Upon hearing his voice, hundreds of people in Madinah swarmed the streets, crying at the voice that reminded them of the days of the Prophet. Every Muslim family member, young and old, came out to listen to the same voice that had mesmerized everyone by its beauty in the early days of Islam. In his last moments, his wife sat beside him, crying. He simply said, “Why do you cry? I am going to meet the Prophet (S.A.W) soon.”
Taking his last breath, his soul ascended the heavens, finally making his dream come true. While relating the event of Isra’a and Miraj, the Prophet said, “I heard the footsteps of Bilal in Jannah.” He passed away in 21 Hijri, and his grave is located in Damascus. May Allah be pleased with his soul.
Author: Maryam Sohaib
Ayah Reference: Al-Qur’an 49:13