Ramadan reflections: How an Abyssinian became the first muezzin of Islam

Bilal ibn Rabah, an Abyssinian and African-Arab companion of the Prophet (PBUH), has the distinction of being the first muezzin in Islam.

By Aftab H. Kola

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Photo by Rahul Gajjar
Photo by Rahul Gajjar

Published: Wed 13 Apr 2022, 12:49 AM

Among the stirringly evocative symbols of Islam is the azan — the call to prayer — intoned in a resonant cadence by a muezzin who invites the faithful to prayer.

The prayer call had its genesis during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Bilal ibn Rabah, an Abyssinian and a prominent African-Arab companion of the Prophet (PBUH), has the distinction of being the first muezzin in Islam. A muezzin is a highly regarded position in the Islamic world.

Bilal (may Allah bless him) was one of the first people of African ancestry to embrace Islam. His life story, which is a prime example of Islam’s respect for equality, was turned into an animation film a few years ago and became an instant hit.


Bilal was born on March 5, 580 AD, in the holy city of Makkah, in the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He lived the life of a bonded labourer during his childhood and teenage years, as he had been captured and taken as a bonded servant by pagan merchants in pre-Islamic Makkah.

Bilal’s curiosity about Islam grew soon after. The fact that God does not measure people by the colour of their skin, nationality, social status or race — but by the measure of their character, taqwa (piety) and actions — impressed him to a great extent. He thought that if there was any religion that was divine, it must be Islam.

Bilal’s voice, high-pitched and mesmerising, was known all around as he used to amble the streets to make residents aware of the prayer time. After the emigration of the Prophet (PBUH) and his followers from the holy city of Makkah to Madinah, one of his companions named Abd Allah ibn Zaid had a vision in which he saw himself trying to buy a wooden clapper to summon people to prayer. But the man who had the clapper advised him to call out to the people instead and intone a short message. Ibn Zaid then went to Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) with his story and the Prophet told him to ask an Ethiopian named Bilal, who had a marvellous voice, to call the Muslims to prayer.


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