Bilal ibn Rabah: The Symbol of Human Equality

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Bilal’s rise to a position of prominence in Islam is evidence of the importance of pluralism and racial equality in Islam.
The epitaph inscribed on the tomb of Damascus, Syria.
By Abu Tariq Hijazi

Bilal ibn Rabah (may Allah bless him) is one of the most illustrious names in the Islamic history. A Negro slave originally from Habasha (Ethiopia), Bilal is an evident story of Islam’s respect for human equality, anti-racism and social equity.
Born in 680CE in Makkah, to his slave parents, Rabah and Hamamah, Bilal too served as slave to a lady close to Umayyah ibn Khalaf, an arch enemy of Islam.
When Umayyah heard about Bilal converting to Islam, he tortured him and forced him to relinquish the new faith. But filled with love of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Islam, Bilal remained steadfast in his faith despite extreme torture and kept saying “Ahad, Ahad.” (Allah is One, Allah is One).
When the holy Prophet learned about his tribulation, he sent Abu Bakr, who bought him from the oppressor and freed him. The freedom was Islam’s first gift to Bilal. Second, Caliph Omar ibn Khattab honored him by calling him as Sayyedna (our leader).
Bilal became one of the most trusted and loyal companions of Prophet Muhammad. He was among the first few persons to embrace Islam. Bilal migrated with the Prophet to Madinah and participated in major battles including those of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq and others. In the battle of Badr, he killed the staunch enemy of Islam, and his own former tyrant master, Umayyah.
Prophet Muhammad was the first to declare equality among human beings in the annals of world history 1,400 years ago. In the presence of over 120,000 companions during Haj, he declared: O people! Your Lord is one Lord, and you all share the same father (Adam). Indeed, there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab or of a non-Arab over an Arab; or of a white over a black; nor a black over a white, except by taqwa (righteousness).
The Prophet selected Bilal to be one of his distinguished companions. Bilal’s rise to a position of prominence in Islam is evidence of the importance of pluralism and racial equality in Islam.
Once Abdullah bin Ziyad narrated that he had a dream advising him the method and words of Azaan (the call to prayer), the Prophet liked it and Bilal was deputed to call the first Azaan in Madinah in those words. When Omar heard the Azaan, he rushed to the Prophet and told him that he also had dreamt Azaan with the same wording. And thus the Azaan was established through Bilal. The Prophet appointed him as the Muazzine Rasool (Calling to prayers on behalf of the Prophet).
As he was the first African to embrace Islam, the African Muslims still feel pride of that honor, which was bestowed on an African.
Another great honor came to Bilal after the Conquest of Makkah in 8 AH. When the city surrendered and all the nobles from the Muslims and the non-Muslims were standing in the courtyard, the Prophet asked Bilal to climb the roof of the Kaaba and give a call of Azaan from the top of it. This was the first Azaan, which was given in Makkah. Such was Bilal’s devotion to Islam and piety that he rose to such heights of spiritual attainment.
After the Prophet passed away, Bilal felt it difficult to spend time in Madinah without his beloved Prophet. He asked Caliph Abu Bakr to let him go to Syria, and there he spent the rest of his life.