Originally a slave from Ethiopia, Bilal became one of the greatest people in the history of Islam.
Bilal was a black slave belonging to Umayyah ibn Khalaf. He was tall, thin, and slightly hump-backed. Thick grayish hair crowned his head. He moved about silently – speaking only in reply. He was born to two slave parents, making him a slave. He used to travel to ash-Sham for Umayyah’s trading caravan, braving the bitter cold of winter and the extreme heat of summer. His only recompense was a handful of dates each day that he ate to strengthen his body. At his master’s house he would serve the guests while going hungry. He was overworked and mistreated as were Umayyah’s other slaves.
Bilal would often hear about Muhammad, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, and Islam, through the alarming discussions between his master and guests. Soon he felt drawn to this religion. He would listen to Abu Bakr calling to Islam, and slowly his heart was filled with eeman. He went with Abu Bakr to the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, and declared his submission to Islam. This was a daring move from a slave who belonged to a staunch enemy of Muhammad. He was the seventh person to accept Islam. Abu Bakr and others of the same tribal status, were spared from harm by the Quraysh. However, the wrath of the disbelievers fell upon the Muslims who had no tribe to defend them. Umayyah ibn Khalaf used to force Bilal to go outside during the hottest part of the day wearing a suit of armor where he would then throw him face down in the sand and leave him to bake in the sun. He would not return except to turn him on his back.
He would have a gigantic rock placed on his chest and then say: “You will stay here until you die or deny Muhammad and worship Al-Laat and al-Uzzah.” Bilal used endure this only by saying: “One, One”. Abu Bakr passed by one day while they were torturing him. He said to Umayyah: “Have you no fear of Allah that you treat this poor man like this?” Umayyah replied: “You are the one who corrupted him, so you save him from his plight!” Abu Bakr replied: “Then sell him to me, you can state your price.” Umayyah who was not to let a good deal pass by, sold Bilal at a good price. Just to belittle Bilal, he added: “I would have sold him to you even if you had offered me but an ounce of gold.” Abu Bakr answered: “I would have bought him even if you had asked a hundred ounces.” Abu Bakr and Bilal went to the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, with the good news. There he announced: “I am setting Bilal free, O Messenger of Allah.” This greatly pleased the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, not to mention Bilal himself.
When the Muslims were settled in Madinah, Islam became firmly established – salah, zakat and fasting were instituted. In the beginning, Muslims gathered for salah at the appointed times without being summoned. Later the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, thought about using a trumpet like that the Jews used to summon to salah. He disliked that idea and ordered a clapper to be made to be beaten at salah times.
Then Abdullah ibn Zayd came to him 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-hadu allaa ilaaha ilia Allah, then twice: ash-hadu anna Muhammadar rasoolullah, then twice: hayya ‘alas-salah, then twice: hayya ‘alal-falah, then “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar laa ilaaha ilia Allah .” “It is a true vision insha Allah,” said the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, adding, “Go and teach it to Bilal for he has a more beautiful and far reaching voice.” For the first time Madinah resonated with the adhan as Bilal was saying it. It was only fitting that, the one who uttered the word of tawheed under the harshest of torture should utter it during the adhan. When Umar heard the adhan he rushed to the Prophet and said; “By the One Who has sent you with the Truth I had the same dream about it!” “Revelation has already preceded you,” replied the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam.
Badr was a day etched in Bilal’s memory. Quraysh was inflicted a heavy defeat and many were taken prisoners. Among them was Umayyah. When Bilal saw him, the memories of what he, and other Muslims, had endured in Makkah came rushing back to him. He exclaimed: “The arch-enemy of Allah-Umayyah ibn Khalaf! May I not live if he lives!” Now Umayyah was Abdur-Rahman ibn Auf’s prisoner, and this fact dissuaded Bilal from attacking Umayyah himself. But, because Bilal kept crying these words, one of the sahabah killed Umayyah with his sword.
The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, entered the conquest of Makkah, not as a proud conqueror, but as a humble servant of Allah. He bowed his head so low that it almost touched his mount. After he ordered that all idols be destroyed, he stood at the door of the Ka’bah and said: “There is no god but Allah alone. He has no associate…, O Quraysh, Allah has taken from you the haughtiness of jahillyiah and its veneration of ancestors. Man springs from Adam and Adam sprang from dust,” then he recited verses from the Qur’an until he said “Verily, the most noble of you in Allah’s sight is the most pious.” [49:13]. He ordered Bilal to make the adhan on the rooftop of the Ka’bah. Hearing his voice, a disbeliever exclaimed: “Look at this black man!” his friend replied: “When Allah hates someone he turns him to the worst.” History however attests that Bilal occupied a distinguished position among the Prophet’s companions. Umar would often say: “Abu Bakr is our master and he freed our master,” meaning Bilal. But Bilal would say: “I am only a man who used to be a slave.”
Bilal was the muadhin (the caller to salah) during the time of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam. After he would make the adhan, he would stand at the Prophet’s door and say : “Hayya alas-salah, hayya ‘alal-falaah, the salah O Messenger of Allah.”. The sweet days with the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, soon came to an end. Everyone in Madinah wept over the death of the dearest man ever on Earth. Bilal was asked to make adhan before the burial of the Prophet. He started the call: “Allahu Akbar…”, but when he came to the name of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, he was sobbing so heavily, he could not continue. He said: “By Allah I will not say the adhan anymore.”
Bilal asked the Khalifah, Abu Bakr, to allow him to go to ash-Sham for Jihad, he spent the rest of his life there. He made adhan only twice since then. The first was when Umar came to ash-Sham. The second was when he visited the tomb of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam, in Madinah. Upon hearing his voice, people started to cry for it reminded them of the days of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wasallam.
On his death bed, Bilal’s last words were: “Tomorrow you will meet your loved ones, Muhammad and his companions.” He died in Alippo at the age of sixty four. His memory is still alive with us today whenever we hear adhan.