Abu Bakr Sets Bilal Free

The famous story of the first Muazzin & one of the greatest muslims ever, Bilal ibn Rabah. His coming to Islam and his high status amongst the Sahabah is testament that race, color & creed mean nothing in Islam and the famous words in Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) Last Sermon included:

“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 a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.”

The story of Bilal ibn Rabah

Bilal was the slave of a rich man in Makkah. He had never had a chance to know his home in Africa because he had been kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child, and he could not remember the long journey to Makkah so that he could never try to find out what had happened to his parents, brothers and sisters, and friends. He had quickly learned to speak Arabic well, except that there were a few sounds that he would never be able to pronounce properly. Living with his rich master, he did have enough to eat and clothes to wear, but being a slave, he also had to work hard and could not leave the city without his master’s permission. Besides, a slave could not get married or own money without his master’s permission, and when he was beaten by his master he could not accuse him in a court of justice.

In the course of time, Bilal had got used to the life im Makkah and his work. He ran errands for his master and helped loading and unloading the camels when goods arrived or were dispatched. In the evening, he met the friends he had found among the slaves. Then they sat together at the fire and told each other experiences and stories they remembered from their childhood or from their jouney to Makkah, or what they had heard at their work during the day.

One night, one of the slaves told a great news. He had heard that Muhammad, a merchant who was known all over the city for his honesty, sincerity and generosity, had told his friends and relatives of a wonderful experience and that he was supposed to teach people a message from God. “Just imagine,” said the slave, “Muhammad says that there is only one God, and we needn’t be scared of other visible or invisible beings. He also says that God commands people to be just.” “That would be nice,” retorted another slave, “but the rich and powerful are not going to listen anyway. They always want to keep everything to themselves and grab every opportunity to rule.” “That’s right,” said the first one. “The rich men already started to ridicule the new message. But Muhammad says that God will sit for judgement in the end, and then the good and just people will be rewarded and the bad and unjust ones will be punished. All people in the world will be made to stand before His judgement seat, and even the dead will be raised up for it.”

This night, Bilal went home thoughtfully. All slaves knew Muhammad. He had always taken the side of the poor and oppressed. When he married the merchant’s widow Khadijah fifteen years ago, they both had released all their male and females slaves, and Muhammad had adopted one of them, Zayd, as his son. Bilal also remembered that he had heard people talk about God when he was a child, and the wise men and women of his people had often said that good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished and that there will be a new life after death.

Already the next evening and full of hope, Bilal went to visit Zayd who looked rather happy and was not proud at all even though he was a free man living in a big merchant’s house, and even though everybody called him “Zayd, the son of Muhammad”. He could tell Bilal even more than what he had heard from his fellow slave the night before, and he also told him that whoever wanted was welcome to learn from Muhammad.

As soon as Bilal had finished his next day’s work, he went to the Prophet’s house. Quite a crowd of people had already assembled there, and Bilal was glad to discover Zayd among them. There were also other male and female slaves, freedmen as well as men and women, girls and boys. And then the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) came and taught his message. Afterwards they sat and talked in a kind and friendly manner, and finally they all prayed together.

From now on Bilal went to the Prophet’s house whenever he could. He learned a lot and prayed together with the others and found many new friends. He also took his friends there. In these gatherings, no difference between slaves and free people was felt. All enjoyed the same respect, and Muhammad taught that all human beings are brothers and sisters in God’s creation.

One day, however, Bilal’s master heard about these visits. He was outraged and called Bilal to account, shouting, “Your mind is just full of useless ideas, and you neglect your work.” “I go to see Muhammad only after my work is done,” Bilal defended himself. His master did know that, but he did not want to be contradicted by a slave. “I am going to show you who is the master,” he shouted. “I demand that you swear at once and by all the gods that you will never go there again.” “I am not going to swear by any gods,” Bilal replied quietly. “There is only one God to whom we are responsible.” Furiously his master got hold a stick and started beating him until he got tired. “Swear by all gods,” he commanded again, but Bilal replied, “There is only one God.”

The master grabbed Bilal and took him to an open space in the desert outside the city. He tied his hands and feet, threw him down into the sand and put a large stone on his chest so that he could hardly breethe. “You will stay here like that until you deny your God and Muhammad,” he said. “There is only one God,” Bilal replied.

By mid-day when the sun had become hot and Bilal nearly fainted from thirst and lack of air, his master returned and asked, “Did you think it over?” Bilal was hardly able to speak, but he said, “One! One!”

In this moment, Abu Bakr came by, a wealthy merchant and one of the Prophet’s close friends. He saw how Bilal was tortured by his master and asked him to leave him alone. “That’s none of your business,” the master replied, “he is my slave, and I can do with him what I want.” The same would have been the verdict of a judge in case Abu Bakr had started a quarrel with Bilal’s master. Quickly Abu Bakr thought of something to help Bilal, and he said, “I want to buy this slave. What do you want for him?” “Do you want to pay good money for this good-for-nothing?” the master grumbled, but at last his greed took over. He bartered with Abu Bakr for a while, then he handed Bilal over to him and went home with his money.

Abu Bakr took Bilal home. He and his family looked after him until he had recovered. Then Abu Bakr said to him, “God’s messenger (PBUH) does not want human beings to be slaves. He wants them to be free servants of God. Therefore I am going to write a document of emancipation for you so that people know and respect you as a free man.”

 

Also Read   :   Hazrat Bilaal (RA) – The Muazzin

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