Hazrat Bilal (rta)

by Shahid Aziz

The Light (UK), February 2016 Issue (pp. 7–8)

کَانَ النَّاسُ اُمَّۃً وَّاحِدَۃً ۟

“Mankind is a single nation”,

so says the Holy Quran in 2:213. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said in his sermon at the Last Pilgrimage that white is not superior to black nor Arab to non-Arab. In a world riven by distinction by class, money and lineage this was a new message.

One man who heard this message was a black Ethiopian slave called Bilal (rta). He belonged to a community which was regarded as lowest of the low. He was black, he was a non-Arab and he was a slave. He was a very early convert to Islam and his master subjected him to severe torture for embracing Islam. His master would tie his legs to a rope and drag him through the streets of Makkah demanding that Bilal forsake Islam. Bilal’s (rta) reply was

Ahad’ — One (God).

His master would drive stakes into the ground under burning sun and tie Bilal (rta) to them with a rope. As if it was not enough that his back burned on the hot sand, his master would put a large stone on his chest so that the stone would also heat up under the burning Arabian sun and burn his chest. When his master saw Bilal’s (rta) blister and burn with heat and his throat dry he would ask Bilal to renounce Islam. Bilal would reply

Ahad’, ‘Ahad’ — One, One.

One day when his master grew tired of torturing him, he asked Bilal why he had embraced. Bilal asked his master to bring him a comb. Bilal (rta) raised the comb and said look just like the teeth of this comb are all equal so are all human beings in Islam. Hazrat Abu Bakr (rta) saw one instance of torture and could not bear it. He paid his master whatever he asked to sell Bilal (rta) to him.

When the Holy Prophet (pbuh) migrated to Madinah he entrusted the finance and management of his household to Bilal. And when the Baiat-ul-Maal or the Treasury was established, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) put Bilal in-charge of it. One reason was that after Bilal was freed Hazrat Abu Bakr (rta) taught him to read and write and Hazrat Bilal could keep strict accounts.

When the question of how to call Muslims to communal prayers was decided the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) appointed Hazrat Bilal to be the first muezzin [a person who calls the Azan — the call to prayer]. This was a great honour which all the companions of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had sought. In fact, the Holy Prophet gave instructions that in his presence only Hazrat Bilal was to call out the Call. Once when someone else tried to call out the Azan, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) stopped them and asked Hazrat Bilal to do it.

After the conquest of Makkah, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) asked Bilal to call out the first Azan in the Kabah. He told Hazrat Bilal to climb the Kabah and stand on it to call out the Azan. We all know that Muslims are forbidden to point their feet towards Makkah because it is considered to be an insult. However, the person the Arabs of that time regarded as being from the lowest class was asked to stand on it. This was show to those present that, in Islam, one earns eminence by one’s sacrifices and piety and not by the colour of one’s skin or lineage or wealth.

Eminent companions (rta) also held Hazrat Bilal in high esteem and someone as great as Hazrat Umar (rta) addressed him as Sayedna Bilal or our master Bilal. It was this spirit of equality among all humans regardless of their class, caste, creed, colour or religion, which was taught by Islam that drew people to it. And of course, together with this equality was appointment based on ability not for political considerations as we see all over the world today.

After the Holy Prophet’s demise, Bilal left Medina despite efforts by Hazrat Abu Bakr (rta).  He vowed never to call out the Azan again. One night the Holy Prophet appeared to Bilal in a dream and asked him whether Bilal did not love him for he has never returned to Medina.  Bilal (rta) immediately left for Medina. Upon arrival he encountered eminent companions (rta) who begged him to give the call to prayer one more time but he refused. However, when the Holy Prophet’s grandsons, Hazrat Imam Hassan and Hussain (rta) asked him, he relented. He climbed the to roof of the mosque and started to call out the Azan. When he called out,

“I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”.

He collapsed and could not continue. People of Medina on hearing Bilal (rta) call out the Azan came running out of their houses. The remembered that Bilal (rta) had vowed that he would never call out the Azan after the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) death and thought may be the Holy Prophet had come back to life. It is said there was not a single eye in Medina that day which was not tearful or a single soul which did not sob.

As Bilal lay dying, his wife put her head on his chest and said:

“Tomorrow shall be a day of sorrow”.

“Nay”,

said Bilal,

“It shall be a joyous day for I shall meet my beloved Muhammad”.

It is sad that Muslims have forgotten the principles taught by Islam and waste their energies in debating issues which are of little significance to humanity.  Muslim societies are riven by divisions of colour, creed, class, sect, clan, … the list is a never ending one. This is driving non-Muslims away from Islam. This organisation [Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-i-Islam Lahore] tried the greatest experiment in 1400 years at Woking in England by getting Muslims from all sects to pray together. After great initial success, it failed because Muslims arriving in the UK from Pakistan reverted to their bad old habits. Woking is now just another mosque and not the universal symbol of Islamic unit, it once was. 

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