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.
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.
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.
Unselfish Use of Personal Talent
As noted above, Bilal did not lose a single moment after being freed to turn his entire focus to the worship of Allah the Almighty and the Companionship of Prophet Muhammad.Indeed, even in slavery, Bilal had been known as a leader, one who was honest, trustworthy, insightful, and blessed by Almighty Allah with a most beautiful voice.
We often forget that each of us is unique, with special talents and skills as given to us by Almighty Allah, and we focus too much on our faults, on our weaknesses. With this defeated state of mind, we end up neither being of benefit to ourselves or to anyone else in society.
In the life of Bilal we have the powerful story of a man who was once owned by another man, but when set free, instead of blaming his former owner for enslaving him or punishing him, or somehow depriving him of his skills and talents, he set his sights on total commitment to a better life through complete and total submission to Almighty Allah.
By being patient, keeping himself occupied with the sincere worship and remembrance of Allah the Almighty, Bilal would not have known it then, but he was about to enter into the pages of Islamic history for his unselfish use of his talent.
A critical decision for the Muslims became the medium through which they would announce the times of the five obligatory prayers. Ibn `Umar reported: “When the Muslims came to Madinah, they gathered, and sought to know the time of prayer, but no one summoned them.”
One day they discussed the matter, and some of them said to use something like the bell of the Christians, and some of them said to use a horn like that of the Jews.
`Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “May not a man be appointed who should call (people) to prayer?”
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “O Bilal, get up and summon (the people) to prayer.” (Muslim, Book #4, Hadith #735).
Known for his beautiful voice with which he used to recite poetry and the Qur’an, Bilal would from that moment onwards be known throughout history for having been the first man in the history of Islam to call the adhan and gather the believers to prayer.
He could have declined by saying it is more worthy of someone from the Quraysh to have this honor. Instead, as a lesson to all of us, he obeyed Prophet Muhammad without question, and then made unselfish use of his talent in the service of his community.
There is so much more that could be said about Bilal, but what stands out clearly is that once the shackles of slavery had been broken, he rose to the height of being a most intimate Companion of Prophet Muhammad, and played an integral part in the development of the early Muslim community.Indeed, Jabir ibn `Abdullah narrated that `Umar ibn Al-Khattab used to say that Abu Bakr As-Siddiq is our chief, and he manumitted our chief, meaning Bilal. (Al-Bukhari, Book #57, Hadith #98).
How wonderful is the life story of Bilal, a blessed Companion indeed, and one who was fortunate enough to know that because of his devotion to Almighty Allah and His Messenger, he had secured a place in Paradise.
Abu Hurairah narrated that at the time of the Fajr prayer, Prophet Muhammad asked Bilal:
“Tell me of the best deed you did after embracing Islam, for I heard your footsteps in front of me in Paradise.” Bilal replied, “I did not do anything worth mentioning except that whenever I perform ablution during the day or night, I pray after that ablution as much as was written for me.” (Al-Bukhari, Book #21, Hadith #250).
Reflect on your own life and strive to be in servitude to Almighty Allah, to use your personal talents unselfishly to serve your community, and most importantly, to love to stand in prayer – worshipping none but Allah alone!
This article was published in 2009
- Tafsir Ibn KathirSahih Bukhari
- Sahih MuslimHaykal
- M. H. (2004). The life of Muhammad. Indianapolis, IN: American Trust Publications.