Bilal: Voice of Islam and Model of Servitude

You have heard the adhan – human voices calling you to the worship of Almighty Allah, in person, online, on your adhan alarm clock and on your computer’s adhan software.

You have heard the strong voice of a teenage boy, you have heard the strained voice of a gentle elderly man, and you might have yourself been inspired to give the adhan once or twice.

If you are like me, you might even have a favorite adhan, but perhaps not the one who gave it, but you remember where you were, and how you felt hearing it!

No matter where, when, or how you have heard the adhan, one thing is for sure: it is repeated five times a day times the number of mosques or prayer halls around the world.

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We listen without realizing that with each adhan, we are reliving the first adhan, and reenacting the moment and the words uttered during that first adhan, by the man requested by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) to make it: Bilal ibn Rabah.

Reviewing the life of this beloved and dear Companion of Prophet Muhammad we find lessons for young Muslims around the world.

From Slavery to Servitude

The most authentic accounts of the enslaved status of Bilal ibn Rabah are available because of the affinity which he and Abu Bakr As-Siddiq developed for each other based on their spiritual inclination towards monotheism. The latter was a man of noble lineage and prestige, and the former was a slave of mixed ancestry.

For Bilal accepting Islam meant defying his slave master, who was steeped in the worship of idols and ignorance, and thereby risking severe punishment and torture.

For Abu Bakr, accepting Islam meant defying his tribe, which was also steeped in the worship of idols and ignorance, and thereby risking the loss of access to power, prestige, and protection.

Perhaps the most ruthless of all slave owners in Arabia, was Umayyah bin Khalaf, who was also the owner of Bilal. Accounts of his torture of Bilal when he accepted Islam teaches us today that no matter what the circumstance or the perceived consequences of submitting to Almighty Allah, one must persevere, and with the help of Allah the Almighty only grow stronger in one’s conviction about the true message of Islam.

Bilal Is Free

Among those who witnessed the torture of Bilal, and could not tolerate the fact that a fellow believer could suffer in such a way, was Abu Bakr, and he was moved to purchase Bilal’s freedom. This is confirmed by the Qur’an and several hadiths.

According to the tafseer of Ibn Kathir of (Al-Layl 92: 5-7, 17-21), we find lessons about the unparalleled generosity of Abu Bakr, and in particular as it related to his spending of his own wealth to free slaves, such as Bilal.

Having been set free, Bilal could have easily been overly grateful and voluntarily offered himself in the servitude of Abu Bakr, but as we know from a narration by Qais, Bilal said to Abu Bakr:

“If you have bought me for yourself then keep me (for yourself), but if you have bought me for Allah’s Sake, then leave me for Allah’s Work” (Al-Bukhari, Book #57, Hadith #99).

And of course we know that Bilal was truly set free and ended up going from being the slave of a man to being the slave of Almighty Allah.

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