Bilal (rta), was the first Muadh-dhin (the one who gives the Adhan) of Islam. In pre-Islamic Arabia, Bilal (rta), tall, thin and slightly hump-backed, was a slave of Umayyah bin Khalaf.
Bilal’s (rta) first encounters with Islam came when he began overhearing conversations between Umayyah and his guests, discussing the negative aspects of the new religion. But instead of being warded off, he felt drawn to Islam. After that, he would often hear Abu Bakr (rta) when he called people to Islam. Finally, he went to Prophet Muhammad (sa) along with Abu Bakr (rta) and embraced Islam.
Since he was a slave and did not have any strong tribe to defend him, Umayyah tortured him heavily. He made him lie face down on the scorching sand, wearing a suit of armour, when the sun was at its peak. Then he would have heavy rocks placed upon Bilal’s (rta) chest and would say: “You will stay here until you die or deny Muhammad (sa) and worship Al-Laat and Al-Uzzah.” Bilal (rta) only uttered: “One, One,” referring to Allah.
On one such day, Abu Bakr (rta) admonished Umayyah: “Have you no fear of Allah that you treat this poor man like this?”
“You are the one who corrupted him; so save him from his plight,” Umayyah hit back.
Abu Bakr (rta) replied: “Then sell him to me, you can state your price.”
Umayyah set a very high price, which Abu Bakr (rta) agreed to pay. In a derogatory way, Umayyah then said: “I would have sold him to you even if you had offered me but an ounce of gold.”
Abu Bakr (rta) who was not to be deterred, said: “I would have bought him even if you had asked for a hundred ounces.”
Once the deal was finalized, Abu Bakr (rta) took Bilal (rta) with him to Prophet Muhammad (sa) and set him free.
In the post-Hijrah period in Madinah, the issue arose of how to summon people to the mosque for prayers. One day, Abdullah bin Zaid (rta) recounted a dream to the Prophet Muhammad (sa) in which a man taught Zaid (rta) the words for the Adhan. “It is a true vision Insha’Allah,” said Prophet Muhammad (sa). “Go and teach it to Bilal for he has a more beautiful and far reaching voice.” Hence, Bilal (rta) earned the unique honor of being the first ever Muadh-dhin of Islam.
Bilal (rta) added to his list of honors when Prophet Muhammad (sa) ordered him to resound the Adhan from the rooftop of the Kabah after the victory at Makkah. He remained the Muadh-dhin during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (sa).
After the death of Prophet Muhammad (sa) Bilal (rta) was asked to make Adhan before his burial. He started, but when he came to the name of Prophet Muhammad (sa) he was crying so hard, he had to discontinue saying the Adhan. “By Allah I will not say the Adhan anymore,” he declared.
During the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (rta), he requested to be sent to Sham for Jihad, and spent the rest of his life fighting in the way of Allah. He made Adhan only twice: once when Umar (rta) visited Sham and second, when he visited the tomb of Prophet Muhammad (sa).
Bilal died in Aleppo at 64. His last words were, “Tomorrow you will meet your loved ones, Muhammad (sa) and his Companions.”
Bilal occupies a distinguished position in Islam. Umar (rta) would say: “Abu Bakr is our master and he freed our master (Bilal).”
To this Bilal would say: “I am only a man who used to be a slave.”