Many people today do not know the story of Bilal ibn Rabah, a former slave who became one of the most revered men in Islam after the prophet Muhammad. It is said that Bilal was the son of an Arab slave and his mother was a captured princess of Ethiopia. Born in 580 AD in Mecca, because of his extreme intelligence and trustworthiness, Bilal was entrusted as keeper of the keys to the idols of Arabia.
When Muhammad(p) announced that he was the prophet of Allah, Bilal would listen to the teachings and later converted to Islam. His master, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, learned of his conversion and beat and tortured Bilal to make him renounce his belief. He was dragged around the city of Mecca and stretched by ropes to break his faith. However, Bilal did not waver and would repeat “Ahad Ahad” (God is absolute/one). Word reached Muhammad of Bilal’s treatment and faith and a deal was made to purchase and free Bilal from slavery.
Both Sunni and Shia Muslims agree that Muhammad specifically taught Bilal the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, because of his deep clear voice. This made Bilal the first Muezzin (caller to prayer) of Islam.
After Muhammad(p) – wikipedia
Sunni view: In the Sīrat Abī Bakr Al-Ṣiddīq that compiled many narrations and compiled historical circumstances regarding the rule of Caliph Abu Bakr was recorded that after Muhammad’s death, Bilal accompanied the Muslim armies, under the commands of Said ibn Aamir al-Jumahi, to Syria.
Bilal never called Adhan again. However, when Umar visited Jerusalem during his caliphate, the Sahaba requested Umar to ask Bilal for one last Adhan. When Bilal called the Adhan, all of the Sahaba became very emotional remembering Muhammad.
Exile To Syria
Shia View: After Muhammad died in 632 AD, Bilal was one of the people who did not give bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to Abu Bakr. It is documented that when Bilal did not give bay’ah (oath/pledge of allegiance) to Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab grabbed Bilal by his clothes and said,
“Is this the reward of Abu Bakr; he emancipated you and you are now refusing to pay allegiance to him?”
To which Bilal replied,
“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.”
Similarly, al-Isti’ab, a Sunni source, states that Bilal told Abu Bakr:
“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.”
Umar then replied, “You should not remain here among us.”
The following is a poem by Bilal on his refusal to give Abu Bakr bay’ah:
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.
Being exiled from Medina by Umar and Abu Bakr, Bilal migrated to Syria. He was among the earliest “Shias of Ali” (supporters of Ali and followers of Ali’s teachings), and remained so until his death. Shaykh Abu Ja’far al-Tusi, a Shia scholar, has also stated in lkhtiyar al-Rijal that Bilal refused to pay allegiance to Abu Bakr.
Death In Syria
The majority of historians believe that Bilal’s actual grave is at Bab al-Saghir in Damascus, Syria. However, there is another grave in the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, in a village called “Rabahiya”. This grave is seen as a shrine built in Bilal’s honor.
Bilal ibn Rabah died either in the year 638 AD or 642 AD at the approximate age of 63. His descendants migrated to the land of Mali and established the Mandinka clan of Keita. The Mandinka went on to form the powerful and rich Mali Empire, which produced the richest Black man who ever lived, King Mansa Musa. Today, his net worth is estimated to have been $400 billion. His kingdom included Ghana, Timbuktu and Mali and produced half of the salt and gold in the world at that time. When he went on his pilgrimage to Mecca, he gave away so much gold that the price of gold dropped worldwide. Even though it has been more than 700 years since he walked this Earth, some of the monuments he commissioned still stand.