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Short Biography of Bilal Ibn Rabah (R.A.)

Bilal Ibn Rabah (R.A.) was the first Muezzin of Islam (Muslim official of a mosque who summons the faithful to prayer from a minaret of a mosque five times a day). He was chosen as the first Muezzin by the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) himself. He is, generally, known as "BILAL HABASHI". Bilal (R.A.) was one of the most trusted and loyal companion of Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.). 

His lineage and Early Life:

Bilal’s (R.A.) father was an Arab and his mother was an Abyssinian (Modern day Ethiopian). His father's name was Ribah and his mother’s name was Hamama. According to different Islamic historians, Bilal (R.A.) had a dark brown complexion with tall slim body and thick-hair. He had a Muslim brother named Khalid and a sister called Aqra. 

There is difference of opinion about his date of birth. According to some scholars, Bilal (R.A.) was born 53 years before Hijra (570 AD) but according to some others, he was born about 43 years before Hijra (580 AD). He was brought up in Makkah.

Bilal (R.A.) belonged to Banu Jumah Tribe (one of Quraish Tribe). Before revelation of Islam, people of Jumah tribe were considered to be experts in palmistry. Bilal's (R.A.) parents were slaves and slaves had the lowest status in society as they had to obey all orders given to them by their masters. Bilal was born as a slave and his master was Umayyah ibn Khalaf who was head of Banu Jumah. 

His Appearance:

According to different Islamic historians, Bilal (R.A.) had a very dark complexion with tall slim body and thick-hair. 

His Acceptance of Islam:

Even before revelation of Islam, Bilal (R.A.) had a natural hatred for the customs and practices of infidels. When Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) announced his prophethood and started to preach the message of Islam, Bilal (R.A.) immediately rejected idol worship and he became Muslim. In fact, Bilal (R.A.) was one of the first nine blessed persons who converted to Islam. 

His Persecution:

People who accepted Islam in the beginning had no supporters or sympathizers and infidels started torturing them brutally. Bilal (R.A.) was amongst the most oppressed Muslim at that time.

When Bilal's (R.A.) master, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, found out about his conversion to Islam, he began to torture Bilal (R.A.) so that he renounce slam and return back to his old religion i-e worshiping idols. But Bilal (R.A.) refused to renounce Islam. His master Umayyah and other infidels used to take him out in the midday heat when the desert turned to a fatal hell. Then they would throw him naked on its scorching rocks and bring a burning hot rock, which took several men to lift from its place, and throw it onto Bilal’s (R.A.) body and chest. This savage torture was repeated every day until the hearts of some of his executioners took pity on him. Finally, they agreed to set him free on condition that he would speak well of their gods/idols, even with only one word that would allow them to keep their pride so that the Quraish would not say they had been defeated and humiliated by the resistance of their persevering slave. 

But even this one word, which he could eject from outside his heart and with it buy his life and soul without losing his faith or abandoning his conviction, Bilal (R.A.) refused to say and began to repeat his lasting chant instead: “Ahad Ahad" (Allah is absolute/one). His torturers shouted at him, imploring him, “Mention the name of our idols ‘Al-Laat’ and ‘Al-Uzzaa’." But Bilal (R.A.) answered, "Ahad ... Ahad.” They said to him, "Say as we say." But he answered them with remarkable mockery and caustic irony, "Indeed my tongue is not good at that."

So Bilal (R.A.) remained in the melting heat and under the weight of the heavy rock and by sunset, they raised him up and put a rope around his neck. Then they ordered their boys to take him around the mountains and streets of Makkah. But Bilal's (R.A.) tongue did not mention anything other than his holy chant, "Ahad … Ahad…” Bilal’s (R.A.) torture continued for several days but he remained patient, brave, firm, and expecting the reward in the Hereafter from Allah.  

Emancipation of Bilal:

News of this slave reached some of Prophet’s companions and they informed the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) about Bilal (R.A.). Prophet (S.A.W.) sent Abu Bakr (R.A.) to negotiate for the emancipation of Bilal (R.A.).

Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.) went to Umayyah and his people while they were torturing Bilal (R.A.). Abu Bakr (R.A.) shouted at them,

"Are you killing a man because he says, 'Allah is my Lord?"'

Then Abu Bakr (R.A.) shouted at Bilal’s master Umayah ibn Khalaf,

''Take more than his price and set him free."

Umayyah liked Abu Bakr’s (R.A.) offer as he thought that selling Bilal (R.A.) to Abu Bakr (R.A.) was more profitable to him than his servant’s death.

Umayyah sold Bilal (R.A.) to Abu Bakr (R.A.). Abu Bakr (R.A.) immediately emancipated Bilal (R.A.) and Bilal took his place among free men. When Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.) put his arm round Bilal, rushing with him to freedom,Umayah said to him,

"If you had refused to buy him except for one ounce of gold, I would have sold him to you."

Abu Bakr realized it was appropriate not to answer, but because they violated the dignity of this man who had become his brother and his equal, he answered Umayah by saying,

"By Allah, if you had refused to sell him except for a hundred ounces, I would have paid it."

Then Abu Bakr (R.A) departed with his Bilal (R.A.) to the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.), giving him news of his liberation and there was a great celebration. Bilal (R.A.) then became one of the most trusted and loyal Sahabi [Companion of Prophet (S.A.W.)].

His Migration to Madinah and Became First Muezzin:

When the Prophet (S.A.W.) granted permission to his companions to migrate, Bilal (R.A.), along with the companions of the Prophet who migrated from Makkah to Madinah. After reaching Madinah, Bilal (R.A.) lived in the same house with Abu Bakr (R.A.) and Amir bin Fahria (R.A.).  When the Prophet (S.A.W.) established the bond of brotherhood between the Muhajireen (migrants) and Ansar (Muslim residents of Madinah), Bilal (R.A.) and Abu Rouwaiha (R.A.) were declared brothers unto each other. 

When Muslims settled in Madinah, the Messenger (S.A.W.) instituted the ‘Adhan / Athan / Azan’. Prophet (S.A.W.) appointed Bilal a "Muezzin" the official who calls the worshippers to prayers. Being an African, Bilal (R.A.) missed the (h) in the Arabic word "Ash-Hadu". Residents of Madinah first laughed at his defective pronunciation, but the Prophet (S.A.W.) rebuked them and told them how dear Bilal (R.A.) was to Allah for the stout-faith he showed during infidel’s tortures on him in Makkah. under Meccan tortures. 

Bilal (R.A.) had a resonant high pitched voice which had a hypnotic quality, that exerted a strange pull on hearts. The moment people heard Bilal's (R.A.) Athan, they left their jobs and came running to the mosque. On hearing the Athan, the Prophet (S.A.W.) would come for leading the prayers. Bilal would also say the "Iqama" before the prayers commenced. 

His role in Battles:

Bilal (R.A.) lived with the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.), witnessing all the battles with him including Battle of Badr, Battle of Uhud, Battle of Trench and others. 

In the Battle of Badr, he killed his former master, Umayyah ibn Khalaf. 

After the Muslim forces had Conquered Makkah, Bilal (R.A.) ascended to the top of the Kabah to call the believers to prayer (Adhan). This was the first time the Adhan was heard within Islam’s holiest city Makkah.

His Marriages:

One day, sons of Abul Bukair (R.A.) came to the Prophet (S.A.W.) and said, "O Messenger of Allah, find a match for our sister." The Prophet (S.A.W.) observe and said, "Why do you not marry her to Bilal.” Hearing this, they went back, but after a few days they came again and repeated the same request, and the Prophet (S.A.W.) gave the same reply. Thus after a few days they came third time with the same request. This time also the Prophet (S.A.W.) giving the same reply with addition, "Bilal is an inmate of Paradise; you should marry your sister to him." So, having heard the Prophets advice, they married their sister to Bilal.   

Bilal (R.A.) took more wives after this marriage. According to Qatadah, he had married a lady of the tribe of Banu Zuhra. It is also recorded that one of his wives was Hinul- Khulania who belonged to Yemen.  

Bilal’s (R.A.) Honor:

Once the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) said, 

“O Bilal, what special deeds you have done that I heard sounds of your walking steps ahead of me in Paradise.” 
Bilal said, “I did not do anything worth mentioning except that whenever I performed Wudu (ablution) during the day or night, I prayed after that ablution as much as was written for me (Tahayyatul Wudu).”

(Ref: Sahih Bukhari: 1149

Once King Najashi of Habasha sent three spears as gift to the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.), he gave one each to Umar ibn Khattab (R.A.), Ali ibn Talib (R.A.) and Bilal ibn Rabah (R.A.), who used the spear to fix for the direction of prayer.

Bilal (S.A.W) was respected for his complete honesty and integrity. On account of this, the Prophet (S.A.W.) entrusted him with the management of the Bait-al-Maal (Treasury). During his management, Bilal (R.A.) distributed funds to widows, orphans, wayfarers, and others who could not support themselves. He was also incharge of the Prophet's household.

At the time of the Prophet's (S.A.W.) death, Bilal (R.A.) remained close at hand and was included amongst the selected few who performed the funeral rites of the Prophet (S.A.W.). It was Bilal who sprinkled water from a skin-bag over the grave of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and thus gained the rare privilege of administering the last funeral rites.

He stopped calling the ‘Athan’: 

After the death of Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W.), Bilal never felt the same again. A day after the Prophet’s death, Bilal went to make the usual Adhan for morning prayer. While giving the Adhan, he broke down and steams of tears began to roll freely down his cheeks.  He managed to finish the rest of the Adhan in a low voice.  After that, Bilal (R.A.) stopped calling the Adhan in Madinah.

During Caliphate of Abu Bakr and Umar (R.A.): 

Abu Bakr Siddiiq (R.A.) took the command of the Muslims after the death of Prophet (S.A.W.). Bilal (R.A.), who felt oppressed in Madinah without the Prophet (S.A.W.), went to Abu Bakr (R.A.) and requested him that he wanted to join the Muslim Army who were fighting for the cause of Islam. Abu Bakr (R.A.) requested Bilal (R.A.) to stay in Madinah for some time as he badly needed Bilal’s help in many matters. After hearing Abu Bakr’s (R.A.) request, Bilal (R.A.) decided to stay in Madinah during the caliphate of Abu Bakr (R.A.). 

When Umar Inb Khattab (R.A.) took over as Caliph after the death of Abu Bakr (R.A.), in spite of being quite old, Bilal (R.A.) requested Caliph's permission to allow him to join Muslim Army and fight for the cause of Allah. Umar (R.A.) tried hard to keep him back but Bilal (R.A.) would not listen. So Umar (R.A.) had to grant his request and Bilal (R.A.) joined the Syrian Campaign. 

Bilal’s (R.A.) last Adhan was during the caliphate of Umar (R.A.) when he visited Syria. The Muslims requested Umar (R.A.) to persuade Bilal (R.A.) to call one Adhan for them. Caliph Umar (R.A.) called Bilal (R.A.) when it was time for Prayer and requested him to call Adhan as he was used to do during the golden days of Prophet (S.A.W.). Bilal (R.A.) rose and call Adhan. When Bilal (R.A.) was calling the Adhan, all Muslims started weeping like children. 

His Death: 

While on death bed, Bilal’s (R.A.) wife cried and said, ‘What a painful affliction’, to which Bilal (R.A.) replied,

“What a great joy; Tomorrow I will meet with my loved ones, Mohammad (S.A.W.) and his companions.” 

It is believed that Bilal (R.A.) died in Syria between 638 and 642AD. 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 Madinah. ALLAH knows best.

 Peace be upon Bilal Ibn Rabah (R.A.) for eternity.

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