Whenever `Umar ibn Al khattab mentioned Abu Bakr he would say, “Abu Bakr is our master and the emancipator of our master”. That is to say, Bilal.
Indeed, the man to whom `Umar would give the agnomen “Our Master” must be a great and fortunate man.
However, this man – who was very dark in complexion, slender, very tall, thick- haired and with a sparse beard, as described by the narrators – would hardly hear words of praise and commendation directed at him and bestowed bountifully upon him without bending his head, lowering his eyelids and saying with tears flowing down his two cheeks, “Indeed, I am an Abyssinian. Yesterday, I was only a slave!”
Bilal …A Miracle of Islam?
So who is this Abyssinian who was yesterday only a slave? He is Bilal ibn Rabah, the 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 and `Umar!
Even if you ask a child who is still in his first years of primary school in Egypt, Pakistan, Malaysia, or China, in the two Americas, Europe, or Russia, in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, or Sudan, in Tunis, Algeria, or Morocco, in the depth of Africa and in the mountains of Asia, in every place on the earth where Muslims reside, you can ask any Muslim child, “Who is Bilal, child?” He will answer you, “He was the muezzin of the Messenger (peace be upon him) and he was the slave whose master used to torture him with hot burning stones to make him apostatize. But instead he said, “One, One.”
Whenever you consider this enduring fame that Islam bestowed upon Bilal, you should know that before Islam this 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, many historical figures were not conferred even a portion of the fame which has been bestowed upon Bilal.
Indeed, the black color 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 honor except as an astonishing occurrence when greatness is found where it could not possibly be.
People thought that a slave like Bilal – who descended from strange roots, who had neither kinfolk nor power, who did not possess any control over his life but was himself a possession of his master who had bought him with his money, who came and went amid the sheep, camels, and other livestock of his master – they thought that such a human creature would neither have power over anything, nor become anything.
But he went beyond all expectations and possessed great faith that no one like him could possess! He was the first muezzin of the Messenger and of Islam, a position which was aspired to by all the masters and nobles of the Quraish who embraced Islam and followed the Messenger. Yes, Bilal ibn Rabaah.
Oh what valor and greatness are expressed by these three words Bilal ibn Rabaah!
He was an Abyssinian from the black race. His destiny made him a slave of some people of the tribe of Jumah in Makkah, where his mother was one of their slave girls. He led the life of a slave whose bleak days were alike and who had no right over his day and no hope for his tomorrow.
First Hearing of Muhammad
The news of Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) 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 ibn 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 center 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.
Their Abyssinian slave converted to Islam and followed Muhammad. Umayah said to himself, “It does not matter. Indeed the sun this day shall not set but with the Islam of this stray slave.” However, the sun never did set with the Islam of Bilal, but it set one day with all the idols of the Quraish and the patrons of paganism among them.
To be continued…
The article is excerpted from the book “Men Around the Messenger”, which is a translation based on Khalid Muhammad Khalid’s celebrated work in Arabic “Rijal Hawla Ar-Rasul” which represents the real inspirational stories of sixty-four Companions of the Prophet.