Bilal ibn Rabaah was an Ethiopian slave. He belonged to some people of the tribe of Banu Jumah. He was known for his hard work and loyalty to his master Umayyah ibn Khalaf, a leader of his tribe. He was one of the very early converts toIslam. He was tortured mercilessly by his master until Abu Bakr bought him and freed him.
When Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) began preaching Islam, Bilal was so deeply moved by the wonderful character of the Prophet (pbuh) and the remarkable teachings of Islam he was calling to that he decided to embrace this new religion. In fact, he was the first slave to become Muslim in the history of Islam.
His master Umayyah was a cruel man who hated Islam and subjected Bilal to different kinds of torture to make him reject Islam. Bilal, however, remained steadfast in his belief in Allah, the One. Umayyah would order his men to take him naked to the desert at the hottest times of the day and throw him on the scorching sand. He would also order them to put a heavy rock on his chest so he would reject belief in Allah. But Bilal would simply say, “Ahad, Ahad”, which means Allah is One. Sometimes, the disbelievers would also put a rope around his neck and the street boys would drag him through the alleyways and even across the hillocks of Makkah. This made Abu Bakr to buy him and give him his freedom.
Bilal emigrated to Madinah where he immediately received a warm welcome from Sa’d bin Khaithamah. He afterwards lived in the house of Abu Bakr where, like other members of the household, was attacked by the fever, then raging in Madinah.
It was Bilal who was the first companion to call adhan in Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) appointed him his mua’dh-dhin.
Bilal became one of the closest companions to the Prophet (pbuh) and took part in all the campaigns of the Prophet (pbuh). Once in the Battle of Badr, he came face to face with his former cruel master Umayyah ibn Khalaf and challenged him. They fought fiercely, and finally Bilal killed Umayyah, Abu Bakr exclaimed, “O Bilal, how sweet Allah’s Justice is!”
He remained with Abu Bakr until the latter’s death. Then he took part in the Syrian wars and died of plague, sixty and odd years old, in Damascus in 18 A.H
Once Bilal said to Abu Bakr, “If you have brought me for your own sake, keep me for yourself; but if you have brought me for the sake of Allah, then let me work in the cause of Allah.” Bilal made this request after the Prophet’s death. He wished to go forth to war, but Abu Bakr implored him not to leave him, as he was old and needed Bilal’s services. So Bilal remained in Madinah until Abu Bakr died. Afterwards, he requested Omar to let him go. In the beginning, Omar was reluctant to give him permission because he considered Bilal’s services indispensable. So Bilal suggested another companion as his successor, Omar accepted this and allowed him to go.
Omar used to say about Bilal, “Abu Bakr is our master and he freed our master.”