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Bilal Habashi

Bilal al-Habashi (the Ethiopian) was the first mu'azzin of the Prophet. His father was called Riyah, and his mother Jumanah; his agnomen was Abu 'Abdillah and Abu 'Umar. He was from those who accepted Islam in the very beginning. He participated in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq and other battles.52

Bilal was at first a slave of Safwan bin Umayyah. During his slavery, he was tortured inhumanely because of his faith. He was made to lie down naked on the burning sand of the Arabian desert; a heavy stone was put on his chest which made breathing difficult for him. And as if it was not enough, some heavily built persons used to jump upon the stone, trying to crush him to death. Still the only sound heard from Bilal was "Ahad! Ahad! (One God! One God!).53

Seeing such barbarism meted out to Bilal, the Prophet was very much grieved. Abu Bakr purchased and emancipated him. In the 2nd year AH when the adhan (the call to the prayers) was prescribed, Bilal was given the honour to call adhan.54 Later on, some people suggested that this honour should be given to someone else, because Bilal could not pronounce the Arabic letter shin properly. The Prophet said, "The sin of Bilal is shin in the hearing of God." Allah does not see the physical manifestation; He appreciates the purity of heart. Once Bilal came to the holy Prophet and recited some lines of poetry in his own language in the praise of the Prophet. The Prophet asked Hassan bin Thabit al-Ansari to translate it into Arabic. Hassan said:

When noble traits are described in our country,
thou art pointed out as a model among us.

It is a well-known fact that the Prophet had an admirable sense of humour - although even in witticism, he never spoke but truth. Once an old lady of Medina asked him to pray to Allah to give her a place in the Paradise. The Prophet said, "Old women would not enter the Paradise." She went out crying. Bilal saw her and asked her why she was crying. She narrated the whole episode. Bilal came with the lady to the Prophet, and said, "This woman is narrating such and such from you?" The Prophet said, "Even black men would not enter the Paradise." Now Bilal too started crying. Then 'Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet reached there and learning of the episode, tried to intercede with the Prophet, who told him that even old men would not enter the Paradise. When he too joined the crying group, the Prophet told them to be cheerful because Allah would create them young and with bright faces and then they would go into Paradise.55

Bilal was devoted to the Ahlul Bayt. Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq is recorded as having said, "May God bless Bilal! He loved us, the family of the Prophet, and was one of the most pious servants of Allah."

It is written in Kamil Baha'i that Bilal did not say adhan or iqamah for Abu Bakr,56 and did not pay allegiance to Abu Bakr as a caliph. Shaykh Abu Ja'far al-Tusi has narrated in lkhtiyar al-Rijal a report that Bilal refused to pay allegiance to Abu Bakr; and 'Umar caught hold of his dress made of hide and said, "Is this the reward of Abu Bakr; he emancipated you and you are now refusing to pay allegiance to him?". Bilal said, "If Abu Bakr had emancipated me for the pleasure of Allah, then let him leave me alone for Allah; and if he had emancipated me for his service, then I am ready to render him the services required. But I am not going to pay allegiance to a person whom the Messenger of God had not appointed as his caliph." 'Umar then dealt harshly with him and said, "You should not remain here among us." That is why after the Prophet's death, Bilal could not remain in Medina; and migrated to Syria.

Some of his poetry on this subject is as follows:

By Allah! I did not turn towards Abu Bakr,
If Allah had not protected me,
hyena would have stood on my limbs.
Allah has bestowed on me good
and honoured me,
Surely there is vast good with Allah.
You will not find me following an innovator,
Because I am not an innovator, as they are.

The author of Isti'ab writes, "When the Prophet died, Bilal wanted to go to Syria. Abu Bakr told him to remain in his (personal) service. Bilal said, 'If you have emancipated me for yourself, then make me a captive again; but if you had emancipated me for Allah, then let me go in the way of Allah.' Abu Bakr left him alone."57 Bilal died in Damascus by plague in the year 18 AH or 20 AH, and was buried in Bab Saghir.58 His grave in Damascus is visited by thousands of devoted Muslims every year.

52. Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. III: 1, p. 170; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 336.

53. Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. III:1, p. 166; Abu Na'im, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 148; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 336.

54. Ibid, p. 167.

55. al-Majlisi, Hayatu'l Qulub, pp. 129-130; Bihar, vol. 16, p. 295.

56. Shustari, Nurullah, Majalisu'1-Mu'minin (Tehran, 1268 AH) p. 54; and also see Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. III:1, p. 169.

57. Shushtari, op. cit.; also see Abu Na'im, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 150.

58. Shushtari, op. cit., p. 54; and also see Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. III:1, p.170; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol.1, pp.336-337.

Adapted from the book: "Slavery; From Islamic and Christian Perspectives" by: "Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi"

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