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A message of equality: The story of Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi


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By Maimoona Harrington

Born into slavery was no one but Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) most trusted and loyal Sahabah (companion), Hazrat Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi. Al-Habashi in his name denotes his Ethiopian or African origin.

City of Makkah from the top of Cave Hira in 2017/Maimoona Harrington/SpokaneFāVS

(The prophet and all his Sahabah’s (companions) are called with the honorific Arabic title “Hazrat” to honor them and show respect.)

He was owned by Ummayya bin Khalaf from Banu Hummah clan in Makkah as an African slave from Ethiopia. When he heard the message of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), he found himself attracted to it and became one of Islam’s earliest converts.

As stated in Oxford Islamic Studies, “Slavery was common in the pre-Islamic communities of the Mediterranean basin, Africa, and Asia. Early Islam mitigated the conditions of human bondage: it forbade the enslavement of Muslims and non-Muslims living under Muslim rule. The only legal slaves were non-Muslims who were imprisoned or bought beyond the borders of Islamic rule, or the sons and daughters of those already in captivity.”

In the beginning, Hazrat Bilal kept his faith secret because his master, Ummayya bin Khalaf, was anti-Islam. In the early days of Islam those who accepted Islam and openly declared it were brutally tortured and harassed.

When Hazrat Bilal’s found out that his slave accepted Islam, he became very angry and tortured Hazrat Bilal. Makkah Saudi Arabia has very hot desert climate. Imagine a man lies in the heat of the hot desert naked with heavy rocks on his chest just because of his belief. Yet he was steadfast in his belief and resisted the torture in different forms.

Once the news of his torture spread and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) heard of it, He sent his most beloved companion, Hazrat Abu Bakr. to get freedom for Hazrat Bilal. After hard negotiations Abu Bakr. was able to gain freedom for Hazrat Bilal. He joined the Prophet on his migration to Medina and many other events in the history of Islam beside him.

Hazrat Bilal ibn Rabah. holds the highest esteemed place in Islam. He was the first African slave to accept Islam but also Islam’s first Muezzin (Prayer caller). His title was ‎Sayyid al-Muʾaḏḏin.

Edward Wilmot Blyden wrote in “Mohammedanism and the Negro race by a Negro” published in 1875 , “The eloquent Adzan or Call to Prayer, which to this day summons at the same hours millions of the human race to their devotions, was first uttered by a Negro, Bilal by name, whom Mohammed, in obedience to a dream, appointed the first Muezzin or Crier. And it has been remarked that even Alexander the Great is in Asia an unknown personage by the side of this honoured Negro.”

Messages on equality and discrimination in Islam are well described through the last sermon of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He stated: “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action.”

Hazrat Bilal ibn Rabah and his place in Islam clearly demonstrate that Islam believes in equality, justice and freedom.

Your appearance or your color of your skin do not matter. No one is superior or inferior and what matters most is your character, your deeds, intentions and actions. The Almighty Allah sees us through the lens of piety and our intentions and actions. He created us all from same matter and we have no superiority over each other. The only distinction is how we live our lives.

Hazrat Bilal ibn Rabah Al-Habashi, his life and place in Islam is a living proof and symbol of human equality.

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Maimoona Harrington
Maimoona Harrington
Maimoona Harrington was born and raised in Pakistan. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies. As a practicing Muslim with extensive world travel and living in the West, she has devoted herself to spread awareness of Islam as a goodwill gesture. In an effort to do this, she started writing from her own personal experiences with religion, beliefs and life in a different culture. She also has special interest in all the religions and how and why they are all important to its followers. Her primary focus is on the co-existence and harmony between all human beings. Her message is to spread peace not division. She strongly believes that if you want to be closer to your creator then love His creation unconditionally and expect nothing in return for He loves us unconditionally and forgives us no matter how sinful we are!

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