An old Arabian story about a slave named Bilal

THE names that most frequently swirl around Islam when it is discussed in the popular media are of course Allah, who is the creator and the exact same God that the Jews and Christians follow, and Muhammad — the final prophet (peace be upon him).

By Sumayyah Meehan (Living Islam)

Published: Fri 14 Mar 2008, 9:21 AM

Last updated: Thu 12 Jan 2023, 12:03 PM

But there are so many more important figures in Islam that were right there along with Muhammad (peace be upon him) fighting all odds to worship as Muslims. They are the companions of Muhammad (peace be upon him), or sahabi, and are made up of men, women, and children from all walks of life irrespective of age, race, or socioeconomic standing. Allah united them, as He unites all Muslims, under the banner of Islam where kings bow and prostrate alongside slaves in utter adoration of Allah. Only Allah could level the playing field and make all men truly equal under Him.

“And one of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours; most surely there are signs in this for the learned.” (Quran — 30:22)

The companions of Muhammad (peace be upon him) were the bravest of the brave and it is highly unlikely that a human exists on this Earth today who could measure up to even one of them. The companions believed in Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he declared that he was the final prophet sent by Allah to give glad tiding as well as a warning to mankind.

“Say (O Muhammad): ‘People! I am the Messenger of Allah sent to you all.’” (Qur'an-7: 158)

The pagan Arabs ridiculed Muhammad (peace be upon him) for making such a public declaration and openly challenging the idols that they so vehemently worshipped. They did everything they could to keep Muhammad (peace be upon him) quiet and thwart his mission. The pagan Arabs offered Muhammad (peace be upon him) beautiful women and riches beyond his wildest dreams if only he cease and desist. They even offered to make him their king and vowed they would bow only to him. But, honestly, how could a messenger chosen straight from Allah be bribed? He couldn’t.

From the moment Muhammad (peace be upon him) opened his lips and said that he was Allah’s messenger, some people in the community began to become interested in Islam. They wanted to know more and approached Muhammad (peace be upon him). One by one, people began converting to Islam but not openly. It was done in secret, as the pagan Arabs were a force to be reckoned with. The conversions became so notable, however, that the pagan Arabs finally decided they had to stop people from converting for the sake of their own beliefs and the idols they worshipped. So, they began punishing and murdering anyone who declared their belief in Allah and Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the final messenger.

One companion in particular was dealt with particularly brutality simply because he had converted to Islam. His name was Bilal Ibn Rabah. Bilal was a poor slave from Abyssinia. The pagan Arabs despised black people and thought them to be subhuman meant merely for their service or whim. When Bilal’s master found out that he converted the punishment meted out to Bilal was swift and fierce. They tore off his shirt and dragged him across the scorching hot sands of Arabia, which had been roasting all day in the unforgiving desert Sun. Bilal’s skin tore and his blood left a trail behind him as he was dragged back and forth over the molten Earth. Then the master and his henchmen took turns lifting hot heavy boulders and heaving them onto Bilal’s chest. This brand of torture lasted for days without end. All the while the pagans insisted that Bilal denounce Allah as the only God and Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Prophethood. Bilal refused to do as he was told and began to chant, “Ahad, Ahad,” which is the Arabic reference to Allah as being ‘The One’.

The torture went on and Bilal himself even began preparing for his own demise for he knew he could never say what they wanted, even though in such circumstances of duress Muslims are allowed to say anything to save themselves as long as their hearts remain true to Allah. The torture continued and more of Bilal’s blood coated the burning hot sands of Arabia. The master was beginning to grow tired of the torture and did not want to actually kill Bilal because he was profitable (a commodity to be sold).

Then one day, another companion of Muhammad (peace be upon him), named Abu Bakr Al-Siddique, went to Bilal’s master to try and put an end to the torture. He knew the master would value money more than a human soul. So, he offered to buy Bilal for a fair price. The master was more than happy to sell Bilal and be rid of such a defiant slave. But little did the master know that the moment the cash landed in his hand, Abu Bakr would emancipate Bilal and he would take his place as a free man. The Muslims celebrated Bilal’s freedom and Bilal became one of the most beloved companions to Muhammad (peace be upon him). Bilal had such a beautiful voice that Muhammad (peace be upon him) appointed him as a Muezzin as the very first man to perform the call to prayer, or Adhan. The exact words that Bilal spoke the very first time he performed the Adhan are still proclaimed by Muezzins in Mosques all over the world today calling the faithful to pray. Allah raised a loathed slave to a position of honour as a Muslim and made Bilal a great figure in Islamic history.

Insha’Allah I will continue to introduce the companions, every now and then, through my column as their hearts, bodies and souls paved the way for Muslims today to worship freely without hindrance although even today Muslims are still being persecuted, in some countries, for their beliefs.

Sumayyah Meehan is a Kuwait-based American writer who embraced Islam. She can be reached at

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