Titles: al-Habashi Arabic: التمار and Sayyid al-Mu’azzin
Islamic miniature from Persia (10th Century), depicting Bilal giving the call to prayer
Birthplace Mecca, Hejaz (580 AD)
Ethnicity African Arab
Known For Being a loyal companion of Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali and being the first muezzin in Islam[1][2]
Influences Allah, Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali, and the Ahl al-Bayt[1]
Died 2, 640(640-Template:MONTHNUMBER-02) (aged 59) AD
Burial Place Bab al-Saghir in Damascus, Syria
Religion Islam
Denomination Shia[1]
Opponents Enemies of Allah, Islam, Prophet Muhammad, and the Ahl al-Bayt

Bilal ibn Rabah[3] (Arabic: بلال بن رباح‎) or Bilal al-Habashi (580-640 AD) was a companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Originally an Abyssinian (Ethiopian) Arab, he was born in Mecca and is considered as the first muezzin chosen by the prophet himself.[4][5][6]

Bilal was among the emancipated slaves freed by Abu Bakr (see Muhammad's views on slavery) and was known for his beautiful voice with which he called people to their prayers. His name can also be known as, "Bilal ibn Riyah" or "ibn Rabah". He died sometime between 638 to 642, when he was just over sixty three years old.

Bilal Ibn Rabah, was an emancipated slave of key importance in Islam. He is said to have been one of the most trusted and loyal Sahabah (companion) of Muhammad. His respected stature during the birth of Islam is often cited by Muslims as evidence of the importance of pluralism and racial equality in the foundations of the religion.

Birth and Early LifeEdit

Bilal was born in Mecca, Hejaz in the year 580 AD.[7][8] His father Rabah was an Arab slave while his mother, Hamamah, was a former princess of Abysinna who was captured after the event of Amul-Fil (the attempt to destroy the Ka'ba) and put into slavery.[8] Being born into slavery, Bilal had no other option but to work for his masters. Through hard work, Bilal became recognized as a good slave and was entrusted with the keys to the Idols of Arabia. However, racism and sociopolitical statues of Arabia prevented Bilal from achieving a lofty position in society.[7][8] The first being the he was a slave and the second being his dark skin color. Traditionally, the Arabs considered Africans/anyone from another race as inferior human beings.[8] And that they were of little value other than entertainment or slavery. Bilal went through many hardships because of him being a slave. Although he became a very noble companion of the Prophet Muhammad, his early life was challenging, since he was a slave.[8]

Bilal's AppearanceEdit

Dr. Muhammad Abdul-Rauf in his book "Bilal ibn Rabah" states that "He (Bilal) was of a handsome and impressive stature, dark brown complexion with sparkling eyes, a fine nose and bright skin. He was also gifted with a deep, melodious, resonant voice. He wore a beard which was thin on both cheeks. He was endowed with great wisdom and a sense of dignity and self esteem"[9] Similarly, Sir William Muir in his book "The Life of Muhammad" states that "He (Bilal) was tall, dark, and with African feature and bushy hair."[10] Sir William also states that noble members of the Quraish would despise Bilial and call him ibn Sauda (son of the black woman).[10]

Bilal's TitleEdit

Bilal was given the title al-Habashi. Al-Habashi simply means the Abyssinian.[8] Bilal also was given the title Sayyid al-Mu’azzin, which means leader of the Mu’azzins.[1]

Conversion to IslamEdit

When Prophet Muhammad announced his prophethood and started to preach the message of Allah, Bilal would listen to what was being conveyed. The preaching of the Prophet attracted Bilal towards Islam. He was among the earliest converts to Islam. When Bilal's owner/master, Umayah ibn Khalaf found out, he began to torture Bilal immensely. Umayah ordered that Bilal's limbs to be stretched out and tied to stakes so that he could feel the intensity of the sun and the Arabian heat.[8] He would be whipped and beaten while tied to the stakes. When Bilal refused to denounce from Islam, Umayah became frustrated and ordered that a large boulder/stone be placed on Bilal's chest.[8] The boulder heated by the sun burned Bilal's body while also crushing him.

Living with MuhammadEdit

According to Ibn Ishaq, Abdullah Ibn Zaid Ibn Abd Rabbihi went to Muhammad with his story that he saw Adhan in his dream, Muhammad, approving the method for calling to prayers, told him to ask an Ethiopian named Bilal, who had a marvelous voice, to call the Muslims to prayer (the Adhan). As Ibn Ishaq told the story (in Albert Guillaume's translation):

When the Apostle was told of this he said that it was a true vision if God so willed it, and that he should go to Bilal and communicate it to him so that he might call to prayer thus, for he had a more penetrating voice. When Bilal acted as muezzin, Umar I, who later became the second caliph, heard him in his house and came to the Apostle... saying that he had seen precisely the same vision. The Apostle said 'God be praised for that!'

Though slightly different versions of the story exist, all agree that Islam's first muezzin was Bilal.

One version states that one of the slaves of Umayyah ibn Khalaf, a terrible foe of Islam and Muhammad, was named Bilal. Bilal learned about Muhammad and his teachings and became Muslim, but kept his belief in secret. However, his master Umayyah came to know that he had opted to be a Muslim. So he started punishing him. He ordered his slaves to make him lay on the hot sand and put heavy stones on his body so that he could not move. After such punishments, news of this slave reached some of Muhammad's companions who told Muhammad of the slave. Muhammad then sent Abu Baker. Muhammad later learned of Bilal's unique way of praying and unique voice with which he spoke from the soul and as a result of this Bilal became the first muezzin.

"When noble traits are described in our country, thou art pointed out as a model among us."


In 622, the year of the Hijra, Bilal migrated to Medina and over the next decade accompanied Muhammad on all his military expeditions, and according to Islamic tradition, a lawyer revered by Muslims for his majestically sonorous renditions of the adhan. Bilal also carried Muhammad's spear, which was used from 624 onward to point the direction of prayer.

He fought in the Battle of Badr, in the aftermath of which he killed his former master, Umayyah ibn Khalaf, in spite of the protestation of Umayyah's capturer and long-time friend Abdur Rahman bin Awf. Bilal was also present in all of the major events and battles, including the battles of Uhud and Battle of the Trench.

Bilal's finest hour came in January 630, on an occasion regarded as one of the most hallowed moments in Islamic history. After the Muslim forces had captured Mecca, Muhammad's muezzin ascended to the top of the Kaaba to call the believers to prayer, - the first time the call to prayer was heard within Islam's holiest city.

After MuhammadEdit

File:Shrine of Bilal bin Rabah in Jordan 1.jpg

'After Prophet Muhammad passed away in 632, Bilal was one of the people who did not give bay'ah to Abu Bakr.[11] Shaykh Abu Ja'far al-Tusi has also stated in lkhtiyar al-Rijal that Bilal refused to pay allegiance to Abu Bakr.[11] It is documented that when Bilal did not give bay'ah to Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab grabbed Bilal by his cloths and said, "Is this the reward of Abu Bakr; he emancipated you and you are now refusing to pay allegiance to him?"[11] 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."[11] Similarly, al-Isti'ab, a Sunni source (pg. 150), states that Bilal tell 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."[11] Umar then replied, "You should not remain here among us."[11] Being exiled from Medina by Umar and Abu Bakr, Bilal migrated to Syria.[11] He was among the earliest supporters ("Shi'a") of Ali, and remained so until his death.[1]

The following is some of Bilal's poetry 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.[11]

Sunni viewEdit

Sunni authors say that after Muhammad's death, Bilal accompanied the Muslims armies, under the commands of Usama ibn Zayd, to Syria.[1] However, it is seen as a weak narration and very uncertain if Bilal joined to fight.[1]

Bilal never called Adhan. But when Caliph Umar visited Jerusalem, other Sahaba requested Umar to ask Bilal for one more last Adhan, and when Bilal did it, It was a very emotional moment for all of the Sahaba.[12]

Bilal's grave is now in the outskirts of Amman, Jordan, in a village called "Bilal". There is also another tomb in Damascus believed to be his.

Death date Edit


Bilal died there between 638 and 642, though the exact date of death and place of burial are disputed.

The Sunni scholar al-Suyuti in his Tarikh al-khulafa wrote:

He (Bilal) died in Damascus in 17 or 18 AH, but some say 20 AH, or even 21 AH when he was just over sixty years old. Some said he died in Madinah, but that is wrong. That is how it is in al-Isabah and other works such as the Tahdhib of an-Nawawi.[13]

Shia state that Bilal was one of Ali's devouted followers after the death of Muhammad, and that he died in Damascus around 20 AH, and was buried within Bab al-Saghir cemetery.


Though there are some disagreements concerning the hard facts of Bilal's life and death, his importance on a number of levels is incontestable. Muezzin guilds, especially those in Turkey and Africa, have traditionally venerated the original practitioner of their noble profession, and African Muslims as a whole feel a special closeness and kinship to him; he was an Ethiopian, after all, who had been exceptionally close to Muhammad, and is a model of steadfastness and devotion to the faith. The story of Bilal, in fact, remains the classic and most frequently cited demonstration that in Muhammad's eyes, the measure of a man was neither nationality nor social status nor race, but piety. This is very clearly discussed in Muhammad's Last Sermon (Islam) in Mina:

O people! Your Lord is one Lord, and you all share the same father. There is no preference for Arabs over non-Arabs, nor for non-Arabs over Arabs. Neither is their preference for white people over black people, nor for black people over white people. Preference is only through righteousness.[14]

Sunni viewsEdit

Edward Wilmot Blyden, himself a black man and former slave, wrote in 1874:

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.[15]

Shi'a viewEdit

Ali Asgher Razwy, a Shia Muslim Scholar states in his book, A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims:

If anyone wishes to see the real spirit of Islam, he will find it, not in the deeds of the nouveaux riches of Medina, but in the life, character and deeds of such companions of the Apostle of God as Ali ibn Abi Talib, Salman the Persian, Abu Dharr el-Ghiffari, Ammar ibn Yasir, Owais Qarni and Bilal. The orientalists will change their assessment of the spirit of Islam if they contemplate it in the austere, pure and sanctified lives of these latter companions.[16]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 “Footsteps in Paradise”. Islamic American Heritage. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2013.
  2. BBC - Religion & Ethics - Islam and slavery: Muhammad and slavery
  3. *Bilal stands for "wetting, moistening" in Arabic.
  6. BBC - Religion & Ethics - Islam and slavery: Muhammad and slavery
  7. 7.0 7.1 Janneh, Sabarr. Learning from the Life of Prophet Muhammad: Peace and Blessing of God Be upon Him. Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse, 2010. Print. ISBN 1467899666 Pg. 235
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 Al-Rassooli, Iq. Lifting The Veil: The True Faces of Muhammad and Islam. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2012. Print. ISBN 1468582186 Pg. 168
  9. Abdul-Rauf, Muhammad. Bilāl Ibn Rabāh: A Leading Companion of The Prophet Muhammad. Indianapolis, Indiana: American Trust Publications, 1977. Print. ISBN 0892590084 Pg.5
  10. 10.0 10.1 Muir, Sir William. The Life of Mohammad From Original Sources. Edinburgh: J. Grant, 1923. Print. ISBN 0404563066 Pg. 59
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 Riz̤vī, Sayyid Sa'eed Ak̲h̲tar. Slavery: From Islamic & Christian Perspectives. Richmond, British Columbia: Vancouver Islamic Educational Foundation, 1988. Print. ISBN 0-920675-07-7
  12. The Story of Bilal
  13. Narrators of the Muwatta of Imam Muhammad
  14. Imam Ahmad(Musnad Ahmad (22391))
  15. Mohammedanism and the Negro Race
  16. A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims

External linksEdit

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