18 September 2020
Men of Excellence
After reciting the Tashahud, Ta‘awuz, and Surah al-Fatihah, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa said:
In the last sermon, I was relating accounts from the life of Hazrat Bilalra, who was from among those companions who participated in the Battle of Badr. Some accounts were remaining, which I shall narrate today.
Hazrat Abu Hurairahra reported that when the Messengersa of Allah returned from the expedition of Khaibar, he walked all night and only stopped in order to sleep. The Holy Prophetsa told Bilalra to keep note of the time for the prayer during the night. (This meant that he should be mindful of the prayer time and wake him up for the Fajr prayer.) Thereafter, Hazrat Bilalra offered his nawafil [voluntary] prayers as much as Allah had decreed for him that night, while the Messengersa of Allah and his companions slept. When the time for the Fajr prayer drew close, Bilalra turned towards the direction from which the sun would rise and sat down. Since he was leaning against his camel, he was overcome by sleep. Neither Bilalra, nor anyone else from among the companions woke up, until sunrise. Allah’s Messengersa was the first of them to wake up and in a tone of concern said, “O Bilal! O Bilal!” Bilalra replied, “O Messengersa of Allah! May my father and mother be sacrificed for you! I was overcome by the same state as you were”, i.e. he was also overcome by sleep.
The Holy Prophetsa then ordered for them to depart and travelled a short distance on their mounts. The Messengersa of Allah then stopped them after a short distance and performed ablution, then gave orders to Bilalra who recited the iqamah and the Holy Prophetsa then led them all in the morning prayer after the sun had risen. When he finished the prayer, he said, “When anyone forgets to offer a prayer, he should pray [the missed prayer] as soon as he remembers it, for Allah the Almighty has said: ‘And observe Prayer for My remembrance.’” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Salat, Bab man naama ‘an al-Salat wa nasiyaha, Hadith 697)
On the day of the Conquest of Mecca, when the Messengersa of Allah entered the Ka‘bah, Hazrat Bilalra also accompanied him.
Hazrat Ibn Umarra narrates, “The Holy Prophetsa arrived at Mecca on the day of the Conquest of Mecca and sent for Usman bin Talhara. He opened the door of the Ka‘bah and the Holy Prophetsa, Hazrat Bilalra, Hazrat Usama bin Zaidra and Hazrat Usman bin Talhara went inside and then closed the door behind them. They stayed there for some time and then came out.” Hazrat Ibn Umarra added, “I quickly went to Hazrat Bilalra and enquired from him [what happened inside]. He replied, ‘The Holy Prophetsa) prayed in the Ka‘bah.’ I asked, ‘Where?’ He replied, ‘Between these pillars.’” Hazrat Ibn Umarra would say, “I forgot to ask how many rak‘at [units of prayer] he had offered.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Salat, Bab al-Abwab wa al-Ghalaq li al-Ka‘bah wa al-Masajid, Hadith 468)
Hazrat Bilalra would later tell people where in the Ka‘bah the Holy Prophetsa had prayed.
It is narrated by Hazrat Ibn abi Mulaikah, “On the day of the Conquest of Mecca, the Messenger of Allahsa ordered Hazrat Bilalra to call the Azan from the rooftop of the Ka‘bah. Hence, Hazrat Bilalra called the Azan from the its rooftop.” (Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2017] 177)
Whilst mentioning Hazrat Bilalra in relation to the Conquest of Mecca, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra states:
“Hazrat Abbasra took Abu Sufyan and went to the Holy Prophetsa during a gathering. The Holy Prophetsa saw Abu Sufyan and said, ‘Woe unto you! Do you still not believe that God is One?’ Abu Sufyan replied, ‘Why would I not believe? If there was another god, would he not have helped us?’ Upon this, the Holy Prophetsa said, ‘Woe unto you! Do you still not believe that Muhammadsa is the Prophet of Allah?’ He replied, ‘Regarding this, I am still unsure.’ Hazrat Abbasra said to Abu Sufyan, ‘O unfortunate soul! Pledge your allegiance; through this, you and your nation will be saved!’ Aby Sufyan replied, ‘Very well, I will do so.’ On the insistence of Hazrat Abbasra, he performed the Bai‘at [pledged initiation] on that occasion, but his heart was not fully convinced by it. However, later on, he became a true Muslim. Nevertheless, he performed Bai‘at, upon which Hazrat Abbasra said that now, he ought to ask for his people to be spared, otherwise they would be destroyed. At that moment, the hearts of the muhajireen were apprehensive. They were originally from Mecca and believed that once the honour of Mecca was destroyed, it could not be restored. Despite having been subjected to extreme torture [in Mecca], they still prayed for a peaceful resolution.
“In contrast however, the Ansar were filled with great zeal and passion. The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘What have you come to ask for?’ In reply, Abu Sufyan said, ‘O Messengersa of Allah! Will you not show mercy to your people? You are indeed merciful and benevolent. Moreover, I am your relative, your brother and I should be honoured in some way as well, as I have now entered Islam.’ The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘Very well! Go and make an announcement in Mecca that whoever enters the house of Abu Sufyan shall be granted protection.’ He replied, ‘O Messengersa of Allah! My house is of a limited size and how many people could it possibly accommodate? This is such a large city; how can its inhabitants all be accommodated in my home?’ The Holy Prophetsa then said, ‘Very well! Whoever enters the Ka‘bah will be given refuge.’
“Abu Sufyan replied, ‘O Messengersa of Allah! Some people will still remain [without protection].’ The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘Alright! The one who throws down his weapons will be left in peace.’ Abu Sufyan replied, ‘O Messengersa of Allah! Some people will still remain.’ The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘Alright! Whoever closes the doors of their home will be given refuge as well.’ Abu Sufyan replied, ‘O Messengersa of Allah! The poor people living on the streets will be killed.’ The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘Very well! Prepare a flag for Bilalra and bring it to me.’ Abi Ruwayhahra was a companion and when the Holy Prophetsa formed bonds of brotherhood in Medina between the Muhajireen and the Ansar, he established a bond of brotherhood between Abi Ruwayhahra and Bilalra. Perhaps Bilalra was not present at the time or due to some other reason. Nevertheless, the Holy Prophetsa had a flag made for Bilalra and gave it to Abi Ruwayhahra and said, ‘This is the flag of Bilalra. Go forth into the city and announce that whoever stands under the flag of Bilalra will be granted refuge.’ Abu Sufyan said, ‘This is sufficient. Mecca will now be saved.’ He then requested permission to leave. The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘You may go! Since the leader has already accepted defeat, now whether or not the people of Mecca learn of [the conquest of Mecca] it makes no difference.
“Abu Sufyan entered Mecca anxiously and continuously said, ‘O People! Close the doors to your homes. O People! Throw away your weapons. O People! Enter the Ka‘bah. Bilal’sra flag has been raised aloft, go and stand underneath it.’ In the meantime, people started closing their doors. Some started entering the Ka‘bah and others cast their weapons outside. Meanwhile, the Islamic army entered the city and people gathered under the banner of Bilalra.”
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra further states:
“The most extraordinary point worth noting from this incident is the flag of Hazrat Bilalra. The Holy Prophetsa arranged a flag for Hazrat Bilalra and said that whoever stands beneath the standard of Bilalra shall be granted refuge. Even though the Holy Prophetsa was the leader, he raised no flag for himself. After him, in terms of the level of sacrifices offered was Hazrat Abu Bakrra, yet no flag was raised for him either. Following him in terms of the leaders from among the Muslims was Hazrat Umarra, yet he too had no flag raised. The worthiest after him was Hazrat Usmanra, the son-in-law of the Holy Prophetsa, yet for him also, no flag was raised. Thereafter was Hazrat Alira, who was his brother and son-in-law, but again, he also had no flag raised for him. Then, Hazrat Abdur Rahman bin Aufra, regarding whom the Holy Prophetsa stated that as long as he lives, there shall be no discord among the Muslims, yet despite this, he too was not granted a flag. The Holy Prophetsa did not even raise a flag for Hazrat Abbasra, his uncle, and who, at times, would even speak boldly in front of the Holy Prophetsa to which he would never be displeased by it, and yet, he too was not granted a flag. Furthermore, all the other chieftains and people of great eminence were present. There was Hazrat Khalidra bin Waleed, the son of a chieftain and who was very well-known himself. Hazrat Amrra bin As, another son of a chieftain was present, as well as the children of other chiefs, yet none of them had a banner raised. A flag was only prepared and granted to Hazrat Bilalra. What was the reason for this? This was because when a skirmish was about to break out in the vicinity of the Kab‘ah, Hazrat Abu Bakrra saw that the ones who were about to be killed were his brethren. Thus, he went to the Holy Prophetsa saying, ‘O Messengersa of Allah, will they [i.e. the Muslims] kill their own brothers?’ At that point he had forgotten about the injustices committed against them and overlooking this aspect only saw that they were his brethren. Hazrat Umarra who would usually say, ‘O Messengersa of Allah, kill these disbelievers [of Mecca]’, but when the Holy Prophetsa decided to forgive them all, even Hazrat Umarra would have thought to himself that it was better that our brothers were pardoned. And despite having committed great injustices against them, Hazrat Usmanra and Hazrat Alira would also have been thinking the same. Even whilst the Holy Prophetsa was pardoning them, a thought may have arisen that among them were his uncles, brothers, sons-in-law, relatives and dear ones; thus, if he was to pardon them, it would be better as his relatives would be saved. However, there was only one person who had no relatives in Mecca; he did not wield any influence in Mecca; who had no helper in Mecca and who was tortured in a state of utter helplessness. Neither was Hazrat Abu Bakrra subject to this [torture], nor Hazrat Alira, Hazrat Uzmanra or Hazrat Umarra. In fact, the Holy Prophetsa himself did not suffer the affliction in the same manner.”
It was mentioned in one of the accounts related in a previous sermon that Hazrat Abu Bakr and the Holy Prophetsa were spared from cruelties due to their relations. However, I made the clarification at the time that cruelties were inflicted upon the Holy Prophetsa as well as Hazrat Abu Bakrra. But Hazrat Bilalra was the only one to suffer atrocities of such nature. Here too, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has not rejected the notion that they suffered injustices; rather, he is stating that no one experienced the same kind of torture that Hazrat Bilalra went through.
Whilst describing some of the details of the torture carried out against Hazrat Bilalra, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra says:
“Hazrat Bilalra was made to lay naked on the burning sand. We can see for ourselves that we cannot walk bare feet in the months of May and June, yet he was made to lay unclothed in burning sand. Then children wearing shoes with nails would jump up and down on his chest telling him, ‘Say, there are more gods other than the One God, say Muhammad[sa] is a liar.’ When they would beat him constantly, Hazrat Bilalra would respond only this much in his own way of speaking, ‘As-hadu allaa ilaaha illallah. As-hadu allaa ilaaha illallah.’ meaning, ‘How can I utter this after witnessing that God is One, and no matter how much you may torture me, after learning that Muhammadsa is the true Messenger of Allah, how can I call him a liar?’ Thereupon the children would beat him even more. He was treated in this manner in the summer months, i.e. the months of intense heat. During the winter months, they would tie his feet with rope and drag him in the stony streets and his skin would be wounded. They would drag him telling him to say, ‘Muhammad[sa] is a liar and there are other gods besides God.’ His response, however, was, ‘As-hadu allaa ilaaha illAllah. As-hadu allaa ilaaha illallah.’
“Now that the Islamic army, numbering 10,000, was ready to enter Mecca, Bilalra must have thought that today would be the day for retribution against those who used to stamp on his chest with their shoes and that he would be recompensed for the cruel beatings and torture he endured. However, when the Holy Prophetsa declared that all those who either entered the home of Abu Sufyan, entered the Holy Ka‘bah, laid down their arms or closed the doors of their homes would be forgiven, the thought may have crossed Bilal’sra mind that the Holy Prophetsa was pardoning his own kith and kin, which was indeed a noble deed, but how would he receive retribution? The Holy Prophetsa knew that on that day, there was only one person who could be pained by him forgiving these people, and that was Bilalra, as these people were not his family or tribesmen. The pain he was made to endure was not endured by anyone else. Thus, the Holy Prophetsa decided that he would seek retribution for Bilal’sra pain, but he would do so in a manner that upheld the dignity of his prophethood, whilst at the same time remaining mindful of Bilal’s sentiments. The Holy Prophetsa instructed that Bilal’sra flag should be raised and the chieftains of Mecca, who used to stamp on Bilal’s chest with their shoes; who used to tie a rope to his feet and drag him; who used to make him lay on burning sand, should be informed that if they wish to save their own lives, as well as the lives of their wives and children, they must come and stand under the flag of Bilalra.
“It is my belief that since the creation of this world and since man has entered a stage of his development where he has been in a position of strength to be able to seek retribution against another for an injustice committed against them, never has anyone sought retribution in such a magnificent manner. When Bilal’sra flag was pitched in the grounds in front of the Holy Ka‘bah, the circumstances were very different to how they used to be. The chieftains of Mecca who used to crush Bilalra under their feet demanding from him to declare Muhammadsa, the Messenger of God, a liar, the same chieftains would have come running, holding the hands of their wives and children, to seek refuge under the flag of Bilalra in order to save their lives.
“Just think of the love and devotion Bilal’s heart and soul must have felt for the Holy Prophetsa in that moment. He must have thought to himself, ‘I did not know whether I would ever obtain retribution from the disbelievers, or whether I would even have the ability to do so. Now, I have been able to take retribution in a manner whereby every person who used to stamp down on my chest, their heads have been lowered beneath my feet.’”
This was his retribution; those who used to stamp on Bilal’sra chest with their shoes were now made to lower their heads at the feet of Bilalra.
“This retribution was far more magnificent than the retribution of Josephas because Josephas forgave his brothers for the sake of his father.” The person for whose sake he forgave them was his father, and the people who he forgave were his brothers. “The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa forgave his uncles and his brothers only after they submitted at the feet of a [former] slave. Thus, the retribution of Josephas is of no comparison.” (Sair-e-Ruhani, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 24, pp. 268-273)
This reference was taken from Sair-e-Ruhani [a compilation of speeches by Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra]. This same incident has also been mentioned briefly in Introduction to the Study of the Holy Quran. I am mentioning this because some people write to me stating that a certain incident has been mentioned differently in another place, whereas the difference between the two is simply that one has been written in detail while the other has been mentioned briefly. Some people focus on certain aspects and highlight differences between the narrations, whereas both the incidents’ descriptions and their conclusions are the same.
In any case, it is stated here [in Introduction to the Study of the Holy Quran]:
“Abu Sufyanra asked the Holy Prophetsa whether the Meccans would be safe if they did not take up arms. The Holy Prophetsa replied in the affirmative. He said that every person who closed the door to their home would remain safe. Hazrat Abbasra said to the Holy Prophetsa that Abu Sufyan was a very proud person and what he wanted to ask was whether his honour would be duly regarded.” This is an additional detail mentioned here with reference to Hazrat Abbasra. “The Holy Prophetsa said, ‘Very well, whoever enters the home of Abu Sufyan would also be granted security. Whoever enters the Ka‘bah, lays down their arms, closes the doors to their homes, or enters the home of Hakim bin Hizam would also be granted security.’ After this, the Holy Prophetsa called Abi Ruwayhah – a bond of brotherhood had been established between him and the [former] Abyssinian slave, Bilalra. The Holy Prophetsa said, whoever came and took refuge under the flag of Abi Ruwayhah would be granted amnesty. He also instructed Bilalra to announce that whoever stood under the flag of Abi Ruwayhah would be granted security.” This part where Hazrat Bilalra makes an announcement is an addition to the earlier account.
“This commandment of the Holy Prophetsa was full of profound wisdom. The people of Mecca used to tie a rope to Bilal’sra feet and drag him through the streets. The streets and plains of Mecca were not a peaceful place for Bilalra, but were a place of torture; a place where he was humiliated and mocked. The Holy Prophetsa thought that on this day, Bilal’sra heart must be inclined towards seeking retribution; it is necessary that this extremely loyal companion should be granted his retribution; however, it was also necessary for this retribution to be in accordance with the pristine teachings of Islam. Thus, the Holy Prophetsa did not seek retribution for Bilalra by severing the heads of his enemies with the sword, rather he handed a flag to his brother and commissioned Bilalra to announce that all those who stood under his brother’s flag would be saved. How glorious and beautiful this retribution was; as Bilalra made this announcement in a loud voice, that ‘O people of Mecca, come stand under my brother’s flag so that you may be granted protection’, the feelings of retribution must have subsided from his heart. He must have felt that there could have been no retribution more magnificent and beautiful than the retribution arranged for him by the Holy Prophetsa.” (Dibachah Tafsir-ul-Quran, Anwar al-Ulum, Vol. 20, p. 340)
Mentioning Hazrat Bilal’sra patience and his condition at the time of the Conquest of Mecca, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra states:
“Such were the hardships that Bilalra was made to endure.” The persecution he faced at Mecca have been mentioned earlier. “However, on the occasion of the Conquest of Mecca, do you know how the Holy Prophetsa took retribution against the disbeliever and bestowed honour upon this [former] Abyssinian slave on whose chest the chieftains of Mecca would stamp on? At the Conquest of Mecca, the Holy Prophetsa handed Bilalra a flag and announced, ‘O leaders of Mecca! If you wish to safeguard your lives, take refuge under the flag of Bilalra.’ In other words, Bilalra upon whose chest the chieftains of Mecca would stamp on, the Holy Prophetsa announced to the Mecca that now, the only means to guarantee the protection of their lives was to submit before Bilalra, even though Bilalra was a [former] slave and they were the chiefs.” (Aindah Vohi Qaumein Izzat Paeingi jo Mali-o-Jani Qurbanion Mein Hissah Lein gi, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 21, p. 164)
Thus, whether the flag was handed to Bilal’s brother and Bilalra was appointed to stand next to him or in the instance of handing the flag to Bilalra, the end result was ultimately the same. Despite a small difference in the details of how the events unfolded, the same point is inferred from it and the conclusion is the same nonetheless.
Hazrat Abdullah bin Umarra narrates that on the occasion of Eid, a person would be appointed to walk ahead of the Holy Prophetsa with a spear in his hand and this duty would mostly be assigned to Hazrat Bilalra.
Muhammad bin Amr narrates that Hazrat Bilalra would dig the spear into the ground – in those days, the Eid Gah would be an open plain. (Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2017] 177)
According to a narration, the King of Abyssinia [Negus] sent three spears to the Holy Prophetsa as a gift. The Holy Prophetsa kept one for himself and from among the remaining two, he gave one to Hazrat Ali bin Abi Talibra and one to Hazrat Umarra bin Khattab. On the occasions of Eid, Hazrat Bilalra would walk ahead of the Holy Prophetsa whilst carrying the spear, which the Holy Prophetsa had kept for himself and would then dig it into the ground. The Holy Prophetsa would then pray in its direction. It is further narrated that after the Holy Prophet’ssa demise, Hazrat Bilalra continued this practise of carrying the spear and would walk ahead of Hazrat Abu Bakrra. (Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2017] 178)
According to some narrations, after the demise of the Holy Prophetsa, Hazrat Bilalra travelled to Syria in order to take part in Jihad. It has been narrated that Hazrat Bilalra went to Hazrat Abu Bakrra and said, “O Khalifa of the Messengersa! I heard the Messengersa of Allah say that the best deed of a believer is to serve in Jihad in the way of Allah.” Hazrat Abu Bakrra stated, “Bilalra, what is it that you desire?” Hazrat Bilalra replied, “I desire to be sent to perform Jihad in the way of Allah and to attain martyrdom.” Hazrat Abu Bakrra replied, “For the sake of Allah and whilst reminding you of my honour and right, I ask you to stay with me, for I have reached an old age and my body has become frail and the time of my demise is very near.” Subsequently, Hazrat Bilalra remained with Hazrat Abu Bakrra till his demise.
After the demise of Hazrat Abu Bakrra, Hazrat Bilalra went before Hazrat Umarra and submitted the same request he made to Hazrat Abu Bakrra. Hazrat Umarra also gave a similar response to him as Hazrat Abu Bakrra did. However, Hazrat Bilalra did not want to accept this and insisted in going for Jihad and continued to request Hazrat Umarra. Hazrat Umarra stated to him, “Who will I entrust with the duty of calling the Azan after you?” Hazrat Bilalra proposed the name of Hazrat Saadra as he also called the Azan during the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa. Hence, Hazrat Umarra entrusted the duty of calling the Azan to Hazrat Saadra and that after him, his progeny would continue rendering this service and permitted Hazrat Bilalra to go for Jihad upon his insistence. (Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2017] 178)
This has been taken from one narration, but in another narration, it mentions the conversation that took place between Hazrat Abu Bakrra and Hazrat Bilalas which is as follows:
Musa bin Muhammad relates on the authority of his father that after the demise of the Holy Prophetsa, Hazrat Bilalra called the Azan and the Holy Prophetsa had not been buried yet.
When Hazrat Bilalra recited:
أَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَّسُولُ اللّٰهِ
[I bear witness that Muhammadsa is messenger of Allah] – instead of reciting Ash-hadu, he would say As-hadu because of his pronunciation – the people inside the mosque began to cry profusely.
When the Holy Prophetsa was buried, Hazrat Abu Bakrra asked Hazrat Bilalra to call the Azan. Hazrat Bilalra replied, “If you freed me so that I remain with you then I will do as you ask of me. However, if you freed me for the sake of Allah then let me do as I please.” Hazrat Abu Bakrra stated, “I freed you for the sake of Allah.” Upon this, Hazrat Bilalra submitted, “After the Messengersa of Allah’s demise, I shall not call the Azan for anyone else.” Hazrat Abu Bakrra stated to him that this was entirely his choice. Thereafter, Hazrat Bilalra remained in Medina to the point that the armies began to depart for Syria during the era of Hazrat Umarra and Hazrat Bilalra also left with them. (Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2017] 178)
According to a narration in Usdul Ghabah, Hazrat Bilalra stated to Hazrat Abu Bakrra, “If you have freed me for your own sake, then hold me back with you, but if you have freed me for the sake of Allah then permit me to go for Jihad in the way of Allah.” Upon this, Hazrat Abu Bakrra permitted Hazrat Bilalra to go. Hazrat Bilalra travelled to Syria and remained there till his demise. However, according to most narrations, it states that Hazrat Bilalra left [for Syria] during the Khilafat of Hazrat Umarra and not Hazrat Abu Bakr’sra. And according to another narration, after the demise of the Holy Prophetsa, Hazrat Bilalra continued to call the Azan during the Khilafat of Hazrat Abu Bakrra. (Ali Ibn al-Athir, Usdul-Ghabah fi Ma‘rifat al-Sahabah, Vol. 1, Bilal bin Rabahra [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah] 416)
In another narration it states that once, Hazrat Bilalra saw the Holy Prophetsa in a dream and he said to him, “O Bilal, how inconsiderate of you that you have still not come to visit me?”
Hazrat Bilalra, who was in Syria at the time, awoke in a state of deep sorrow and mounted upon his ride and left for Medina right away. Upon arriving at the blessed grave of the Holy Prophetsa, he began to weep profusely and was overcome with a state of intense anguish. At the same time, Hazrat Hassanra and Hazrat Hussainra also arrived. Hazrat Bilalra kissed them both and embraced them. Hazrat Hassanra and Hazrat Hussainra stated that they wished he could call the Azan for the morning prayer [Fajr]. And so, Hazrat Bilalra climbed the roof of the mosque and according to the narrator, when he recited:
أَللّٰهُ اَكْبَرُ أَللّٰهُ اَكْبَرُ
[Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest], the city of Medina echoed forth with the sound. And when he recited:
أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَّا اِلٰهَ إِلَّا اللّٰهُ
[I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah], the sound reverberated even greater and the people suddenly became restless.
When he recited:
أَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَّسُوْلُ اللّٰهِ
[I bear witness that Muhammadsa is the Messenger of Allah], even the women came out of their quarters. The narrator states that he had never seen so many men and women cry as he had witnessed that day. (Ali Ibn al-Athir, Usd al-Ghabah fi Ma‘rifat al-Sahabah, Vol. 1, Bilal bin Rabahra [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah] 417)
In other words, the Muslims were reminded of the era of the Holy Prophetsa, which caused them to be overcome with intense emotion.
During the era of Hazrat Umar’sra Khilafat, when Hazrat Bilalra sought permission to go for Jihad, Hazrat Umarra enquired as to what stopped him from calling the Azan. Upon this, Hazrat Bilalra replied, “I called the Azan upon the instruction of the Holy Prophetsa and I continued doing so till his demise. Thereafter, I called the Azan upon the instruction of Hazrat Abu Bakrra for he was the one who granted me my freedom and I continued to do so until his demise. I heard the Holy Prophetsa say, ‘O Bilal, there is no greater form of worship than performing Jihad in the way of Allah.’”
Thus, Hazrat Bilalra left for Syria. Later, when Hazrat Umarra travelled to Syria, Hazrat Bilalra called the Azan upon his instruction. The narrator of the tradition states that he never saw Hazrat Umarra become as emotional as he did that day. (Ali Ibn al-Athir, Usd al-Ghabah fi Ma‘rifat al-Sahabah, Vol. 1, Bilal bin Rabahra [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah] 416-417)
Regarding the latter part of Hazrat Bilal’sra life, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra states:
“Towards the end of his life, Hazrat Bilalra went to Syria…”
It mentions here that people would not accept his proposals for marriage; however, it was mentioned earlier that he was previously married, therefore perhaps he did not get certain proposals for marriage due to the fact that he was travelling to Syria, or whilst in Syria he did not get any marriage proposals. But in any case, there are many narrations which report that he previously had marriages during the life of the Holy Prophetsa.
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra continues:
“Hazrat Bilalra sent a proposal for marriage in Syria and stated that he was an Abyssinian and so it was their choice if they wished to decline his proposal. However, if they accepted his proposal on account of him being a companion of the Holy Prophetsa, then it would be an act of great kindness on their part. Thus, the proposal for marriage was accepted and Hazrat Bilalra remained in Syria.”
He had previous marriages as well and so it could be that all of his wives had passed away, or that none of them wanted to go with him, or he wanted to marry in Syria. In any case, it ought to be clarified here that Hazrat Bilalra did have previous marriages even though Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has written that according to the other narrations, no one would accept his proposal or give their hand to him in marriage, but Allah knows best in which context those narrations were written. However, Hazrat Bilalra sent a proposal for marriage while in Syria and it was accepted and thus, he remained in Syria.
The mention of his marriage was stated as a subsidiary point; the actual narration is about a dream he experienced. Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra states that on one occasion, the Holy Prophetsa came to him in his dream and stated, “Bilal, you seem to have forgotten about me and do not come to visit my grave.” Hazrat Bilalra immediately stood up and prepared his provisions for travel and left for Medina and fervently prayed at the side of the Holy Prophet’ssa grave. He was overcome with intense emotion and the news of his arrival spread throughout the city. Hazrat Hassanra and Hazrat Hussainra, who were much older now, came running to him and said, “Did you used to call the Azan in the time of the Holy Prophetsa?” “Yes”, replied Hazrat Bilalra. They both asked for him to recite the Azan for them as well and so Hazrat Bilalra called the Azan and everyone heard it. (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 25, p. 182, Friday Sermon, 10 March 1944)
During his Khilafat, Hazrat Umarra established a system to record and monitor accounts and finances etc. in Syria. When these records where complete, Hazrat Bilalra moved to Syria and remained with the mujahideen [those who partook in battles]. Hazrat Umarra said to Hazrat Bilal, “O Bilal! Who will you entrust to oversee matters relating to your allowance”, i.e. who will be his representative in dealing with his financial matters. He replied, “I will assign it to Abu Ruwayhah, as he is one whom I can never overlook owing to the bond of brotherhood established between him and myself by the Holy Prophetsa.” (Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2017] 176)
With regard to Hazrat Bilal’sra truthfulness and honesty, there is a narration as follows:
Amr bin Memoon narrates on account of his father that Hazrat Bilal’sra brother would declare himself to be an Arab and considered himself to be one of them. He sent a marriage proposal to an Arab woman, who stated that if Hazrat Bilalra personally came to see her [to convey the proposal], she would consider the proposal. When Hazrat Bilalra went to see her, he recited Tashahud [affirmedthe declaration of faith] and then said, “I am Bilal bin Rabah and this is my brother. With regard to faith and his morals, he is not a good man. If you wish to marry him, then you may do so and at the same time, if you wish, you can refuse the proposal.” She replied, “Since he is your brother, I agree to the marriage proposal.” Hence, she married Hazrat Bilalra’s brother. (Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2017] 179)
Zaid bin Aslam relates that a few people from Banu Abi Bukair came to see the Holy Prophetsa and requested if he would arrange the marriage between their sister and such and such person. The Holy Prophetsa asked them what were their thoughts regarding Bilalra [as a suitor for the marriage]? The second time they came, they asked, “O Messengersa of Allah! Kindly settle the marriage between our sister and such and such person.” The Holy Prophetsa asked them again what they thought of Bilalra? When these people came for the third time – having refused previously – and requested the Holy Prophetsa to settle the marriage of their sister with such and such person, the Holy Prophetsa said, “What is your opinion regarding Bilalra? What are your thoughts about someone who is from among the dwellers of paradise?” The narrator then says that they settled the marriage between their sister and Hazrat Bilalra. (Ibn Saad, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2017] 179)
In the previous extract of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra in which it was written that he would not receive any marriage proposals, there was a particular context and background to that narration, as there are various other narrations which state that Hazrat Bilalra married a few times.
Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahibra writes:
“During the Khilafatof Hazrat Umarra, Hazrat Suhailra bin Amr along with Abu Sufyan and various other chieftains of Mecca who had accepted Islam at the victory of Mecca, went to meet Hazrat Umarra. Coincidentally, at the same time, Bilalra, Ammarra, Suhaibra and others also came to meet Hazrat Umarra. These people were those who were previously slaves and were very poor, but they were among those who had accepted Islam in the early days.
“When Hazrat Umarra was notified, he invited Bilalra etc. to come and see him first. Upon witnessing this sight, Abu Sufyan, who perhaps still possessed a tinge of ignorance, became furious and said, ‘Were we to witness such disgrace as well? Are we to wait, while these slaves are granted the honour of audience?’ ‘Then who is to blame for this?’ retorted Suhail. ‘Muhammadsa invited us all to God and they accepted him immediately while we held back. Then should they not possess superiority over us?’” (Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra, p. 369)
Whilst mentioning Hazrat Bilal’sra status and rank, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has related this incident in the following manner:
“During his Khilafat, Hazrat Umarra once came to Mecca and all those former slaves who would be dragged by their hair, came one by one to meet with Hazrat Umarra. It was Eid day and before these former slaves arrived, all the sons of the prominent chiefs of Mecca came to greet Hazrat Umarra. They were still sat there when Hazrat Bilalra came – the same Bilalra who was previously a slave. People would beat him severely and drag his bare body across sharp rocks. Large heavy rocks would be placed on his chest and he would be forced to say that he would worship Lat and Uzza [idols]; however, he would only say:
أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَّا اِلٰهَ إِلَّا اللّٰهُ
“[I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah.]
“When Hazrat Umarra saw Hazrat Bilalra, he requested the chiefs if they could move back and allow for Hazrat Bilalra to sit down. He had just sat down, when another companion, who was previously a slave, came and Hazrat Umarra asked the chiefs again if they could move back and allow him to sit. After a short while, another companion, who was a former slave, came and again Hazrat Umarra requested the chiefs to move back and to leave space for him to sit down. Because Allah wished to humiliate them, coincidentally eight or 10 [former] slaves came one after another and each time, Hazrat Umarra would request the chiefs to move back and allow them to sit in front.
“In those days, there were no large halls; rather, there used to be small rooms in which only a small number of people could be accommodated. When the room was filled with the companions who were once slaves, and the chiefs were made to sit where the shoes were kept, they were unable to bear this humiliation. They immediately left and outside they began discussing how they had been disgraced in that those people that were once their slaves, now were made to sit ahead of them and they were forced to move back, also that they were forced to sit where the shoes were and that they were disgraced and humiliated in front of everyone.
“One of the young chiefs, who was wiser than the others, heard all of this and said, ‘Indeed, we were disgraced, but the question is, whose actions resulted in our disgrace? When our brothers and fathers would inflict cruelties on the Holy Prophetsa and his companions, these slaves would sacrifice their lives for his sake. Since the Holy Prophetsa was granted victory and governance, you can decide for yourselves who the followers of the Holy Prophetsa would grant honour to; you, who would beat them or those slaves who sacrificed their lives for the sake of Islam? If indeed they deserve honour and respect today, then why do you have any grievances. It is owing to the evil actions of your forefathers that you do not receive the same honour as these [former] slaves.’
“When the wise young man said this, they understood the matter. They said, ‘Indeed, our forefathers are responsible for this humiliation, but is there a way in which we can wash away this blemish?’ They all agreed that since they were unable to think of a solution, they would speak to Hazrat Umarra and ask him if there was a way to atone for their mistakes. When they went to meet Hazrat Umarra, the gathering had come to a close and the companions had all left. They said to Hazrat Umarra, ‘We have come to speak to you about the anguish we felt today in the gathering.’ Hazrat Umarra stated, ‘Do not feel aggrieved, for these people were the companions of the Holy Prophetsa and would always be seated at the front in his gatherings. Therefore, I was obliged to seat them in the front. I am aware you may have been pained by my action, but this was my duty.’ They replied, ‘We can understand this predicament of yours. We only wish to know is there any way in which we can atone for the reasons why we suffered this humiliation? Is there any water with which we can wash away these stains?’
“Hazrat Umarra had seen the influence, power, awe and might their forefathers wielded. When Hazrat Umarra heard them say these words, it brought tears to his eyes just thinking about how far they would go to atone for their mistakes. He was overcome with such an intense state of emotion that he was unable to speak. All he could do was to point towards Syria, where in those days, the Muslims were engaged in battle with the armies of Byzantine emperor. What he meant was that the only way to atone for the reason why they suffered this humiliation was to sacrifice their lives and go to fight. Thus, mounting their camels, they immediately departed for Syria. History tells us that not a single one of these young chiefs came back alive. Thus, through the sacrifice of their blood, they washed away the stain that was marked on their foreheads, as it were, owing to the actions of their forefathers.” (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 9, pp. 289-290)
Thus, one of the things we learn from this is that in order to attain a rank or honour, one must offer sacrifices. The beautiful teachings of Islam are such that those who offered sacrifices from the outset, their rank and station is undoubtedly greater, irrespective of whether they were slaves of African descent or belonged to any other ethnicity.
Islam has granted honour on the ground of merit and can be bestowed upon anyone, not just the rich or the poor. If they show loyalty and are willing to offer sacrifices, and if they are willing to sacrifice everything including their lives, then they will be given their due rank and honour. Some accounts of Hazrat Bilalra still remain and God-willing, they will be mentioned in the future.
(Original Urdu transcript published in Al Fazl International, 9 October 2020, pp. 5-9. Translated by The Review of Religions.)