Bilal Ibn Rabah’s acceptance of
Islam is a powerful story, involving slavery, conversion, torture, and rescue.
It touches on aspects of racism, is a lesson in pluralism, and teaches us that
piety is the only way to measure of a person’s worth. Bilal’s story is also the
story of the adthaan, or call to prayer, for Bilal was also Islam’s
Across the globe, one of the most poignant symbols of
Islam is the melodious call to prayer. Its sublime sound rings out across
cities and meadows, on beaches, in fertile fields and in barren valleys. Once
heard, the sound of the Adthaan is never forgotten and many people have
entered the religion of Islam simply by hearing this soulful sound. Adthaan,
which means announcement is mentioned only once in the Quran but never the less,
it plays an integral part in the life of a Muslim.
For those born into Islam it is often the first sound they
hear. Immediately after birth, the father or any other important Muslim in the
child’s life holds the newborn and whispers the words of adthaan into his
right ear. The time for prayer is announced five times per day, from lofty
minarets or from watches and computers. When a Muslim hears the adthaan,
preparation for prayer begins. Bilal, because of his beautiful voice had the
honour of being the first man in the world to call the adthaan and call the
worshippers to prayer.
"O believers, when proclamation is made for prayer on the Day
of Congregation, hasten to God’s remembrance and leave business aside; that is
better for you, if you did but know." (Quran 62:9)
In the year 622 Prophet Muhammad, Bilal and most of the
fledgling Muslim community migrated to Medina. It was here that Prophet
Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, began the work of
setting up the Muslim nation. Bilal was at his side whenever possible and as
one commentator said, "Every event in Mohammad’s life was an event in the life
It is said that Bilal was so close to Prophet Muhammad he had the duty of
waking him in the mornings.
According to authentic traditions Prophet Muhammad was
concerned and anxious to find a way to summon the Muslims to prayer. He wanted
something unique. It was here that Abdullah ibn Zaid, one of the Companions,
informed the Prophet about a dream that he had.
‘There appeared to me in a dream a man who was wearing
two green garments, in whose hand was a bell. I said, "O slave of God, will
you sell that bell?" he said, "What will you do with it?" I said, "We will call
the people to prayer with it." He said, "Shall I not show you something better
than that?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Say, Allaahu akbar Allaahu akbar …"
God is great! God is great! I testify that there is no
true deity but God. I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God. Come to
prayer! Come to prayer! Come to salvation! Come to salvation! God is great!
God is great! There is no true deity but God.
The tradition continues. ‘Prophet Muhammad listened to
the description of the dream and said, "This is a true dream, (meaning a dream
sent by God). Get Bilal and tell him what you have seen, teach him the words
so that he can give the call, because he has a beautiful voice." So I went to
Bilal and told him my dream, so he gave the call to prayer. Umar ibn
al-Khattab heard the call while still in his house; he rushed out, dragging his
cloak behind him, saying, "By the One who sent you with the truth, O Messenger
of God, I saw the same dream." Prophet Muhammad was pleased and said "Praise
be to God."‘
In the decade after the migration Bilal accompanied Prophet
Muhammad on all his military expeditions, and had the honour of carrying Prophet
Muhammad’s spear. He fought in the Battle of Badr, and in the aftermath he
killed his former master, Umayya ibn Khalaf. Bilal was also present at the battle
of Uhud and the battle of the Trench.
Bilal’s life after his conversion to Islam contained
many moments of great joy however his finest hour must have been in 630 BCE, on
an occasion regarded as one of the most hallowed moments in Islamic history. After
the Muslim forces had conquered Mecca, Bilal ascended to the top of the Kaba,
the house of God, to call the believers to prayer. This was the first time the
call to prayer was heard within Islam’s holiest city.
After the death of Prophet Muhammad, Bilal never felt
the same again. A day after the Prophet’s death, Bilal went to make the usual adthaan
for morning prayer. While giving the adthaan he broke down and steams
of tears began to roll freely down his cheeks. He managed to finish the rest
of the adthaan in a low voice. After that, Bilal stopped calling the adthaan
The memories of Madina were too hard for him to live
with, and he left for another place. Later, upon his visit to Madina at the
behest of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandsons he agreed to give the adthaan.
Old memories that lay deep down in his heart were revived and those who had
experienced the golden days with Prophet Muhammad could not hold back their
It is believed that Bilal died in Syria between 638 and
642 BCE. Imam al-Suyuti in his book
‘Tarikh al-Khulafa’ writes,
"He (Bilal) died in Damascus when he was just over sixty years old." Others are
of the opinion that he died in Medina. We can be sure that his eternal abode
is Paradise for Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon
him, called Bilal "a man of paradise".