The First Muezzin (Prayer Caller) and the first slave convert in Islam
One of the basic teachings of the religion of Islam is the unity of mankind and equality of people in the sight of Allah.
In chapter 49, verse 13 of the Our’an we read what may be translated as:
۱۳. يُّهَا النَّاسُ اِنَّا خَلَقۡنٰكُمۡ مِّنۡ ذَكَرٍ وَّاُنۡثٰى وَجَعَلۡنٰكُمۡ شُعُوۡبًا وَّقَبَآٮِٕلَ لِتَعَارَفُوۡا ؕ اِنَّ اَكۡرَمَكُمۡ عِنۡدَ اللّٰهِ اَ تۡقٰٮكُمۡ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ عَلِيۡمٌ خَبِيۡرٌ “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know one another. Surely, the most honourable of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous (Allah fearing) of you.”
And this has never been a lip service to equality of people. For, from the very outset, the community of Islam included men and women of various tribal, racial and social groups. There were the leaders along with the slaves, and there were the Ouraishite Arabs along with the Abyssinians, Persians and others. But in the eyes of Islam and its followers, they were all Muslim brothers with no difference or distinction between them. It is no wonder then that one of the best known heroes of Islam used to describe himself as “the Abyssinian, who was a slave” without any sense of embarrassment, because he knew that to his Muslim brothers this was of no significance. The hero we are
talking about is Bilal ibn Rabah. the muezzin of the Prophet.
Bilal was born of an African slave-girl who belonged to the tribe of Ban! Jumah. He was known for his hard work and loyalty to his master, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, a leader of his tribe. Bilal’s presence in the household of Umayyah gave him the opportunity to hear the comments made by the leaders of Quraish about Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) comments that were a mixture of envy
and hatred as well as a confession of Muhammad’s integrity and honesty.
He was finally convinced of what he had heard of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, and he declared his joining of the faith of Islam, to be the first slave convert in Islamic history. This step itself was not an easy one, especially if we realize that even honourable members of
the Makkan community were subjected to ridicule and harassment as soon as their conversion to Islam was known to their compatriots. As for slaves in that pre-lslamic society of racial segregation only Allah knows how much they had to bear, since they were treated no better than any piece of property with which the owner had the right to do whatever he liked. This was the lot of Bilal who, unfortunately, was
owned by one of the major antagonists of Islam and its Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).
Umayyah ibn Khalaf used all sorts of torture on Bilal to make him change his mind. He ordered his men to take Bilal naked and throw him on the hellish sands of the desert at the hottest times of the summer day. To make sure of the effect of that searing sand, they further put a heavy rock on Bilal’s chest, trying all the time to make him revert to polytheism. Our great hero’s response was a very simple – but an effective one, “Ahad. Ahad (He is One, He is One)” which means, ‘Allah is One.’ He said nothing else, but to him this was sufficient to give him all the spiritual support needed to bear the effects of the torture he was exposed to.
Umayyah and his men got tired of torturing Bilal. Many asked him just to say something nice in favour of their idols to let him go. But to Bilal. torture in its worst form was better than even those few appeasing words.
When Umayyah despaired of Bilal’s reversion to disbelief, he accepted Abu Bakr’s offer and sold him to Abo Bakr (may Allāh be pleased with him).
Saying that he was ready to sell him for even an ounce of gold, to which Abo Bakr’s answer was: “I would have paid even one hundred ounces for him.” Naturally, with that deal Bilal was free. For it was the habit of Abu Bakr AI-Siddeeq (may Allāh be pleased with him) to buy Muslim slaves to set them free.
After the migration of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to Madinah, and when the institution of Adhan (call to prayer) was founded, it was Bilal who was the first to be asked by the Prophet to recite it. Later, upon the victorious entry of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to Makkah, and after the destruction of the idols in and around the Ka’bah. it was Bilal again who was asked to make the call to prayer. No wonder then that this ex-slave Bilal has become one of the best-known heroes of Islamic history.