Sacred site: Quba Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia is the oldest mosque in the world. *Creative Commons photo by Wibowo Djatmiko
Sacred site: Quba Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia is the oldest mosque in the world. *Creative Commons photo by Wibowo Djatmiko

It would be remiss of me if I did not honour Black History Month.

Though originating in America, Bermuda celebrates it with the honour it deserves.

I will use the opportunity to highlight one of Islam’s most famous and beloved believers, Hazrat Bilal (RA), the first muezzin of Islam.

Bilal ibn Rabah was a loyal companion of Prophet Muhammad. An oppressed slave from Ethiopia, formerly Abyssinia, Bilal was one of the earliest converts to Islam. 

Persecution

He accepted Islam at a time when becoming a Muslim resulted in fierce persecution and even death for the Arabs, let alone for a black man.

Before the advent of Islam, slave markets thrived in the Arabian Peninsula.

The pagan tribal chiefs were ruthless and cruel and their wealth was usually measured by the amount of slaves they owned.

Bilal was owned by an idol worshipper, Quraish chief Umayyah ibn Khalaf. 

At a time when idol worshipping was the custom and pagan rituals the culture, Bilal heard about the message of worshipping one God in the markets of Makah where Prophet Muhammad — the messenger of Allah — also preached about justice and equality for all mankind.

Bilal was deeply moved by this message.

While grazing his master’s cattle under the sweltering sun, Bilal thought about things he had never thought of before, such that idols of stones had no power or life and were not worthy of worship.

He secretly met Hazrat Abu Bakr, a close friend of Prophet Muhammad and accepted Islam.

When Bilal’s owner found out about his slave’s new belief, he was angered to the point of insanity.

After all, slaves could do nothing of their own freewill and therefore Bilal had to be severely punished.

Bilal was whipped and tortured but he did not give in to the worship of denouncing the ones of God.

In frustration, Umayyah ordered his other slaves to take Bilal to the desert and place a heavy boulder on his chest, in the hopes that Bilal would be crushed unless he gave up his new religion.

But despite the immense pain and inhumane treatment, Bilal continuously repeated under the scorching hot desert sand and sun “Allah is One. There is no god but Allah.”

When Hazrat Abu Bakr heard of the fate that had befallen Bilal, he went to his owner and asked him to sell Bilal to him. 

Tired of his slave’s defiance, Umayyah agreed to sell Bilal. Once Abu Bakr owned Bilal he declared him a free man.

Equality

Because of the persecution Muslims faced in Makah, a handful of new Muslims emigrated to the city of Medina, where a simple mosque was built as a place for Muslims to gather and offer prayers. 

The mosque was called the Quba Mosque and Prophet Muhammad chose Bilal as the first official muezzin (caller) of the Islamic faith.

Bilal called the adhan in his harmonious and melodious voice, five times a day, ushering the faithful to the prayer. 

However, not everyone was happy about Bilal being given this honour, and therefore expressed their displeasure to this appointment because of Bilal’s black skin.

To admonish this type of thinking, Allah, the Just, sent Surah 49:13 of Quran to the disgruntled;  “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”

The above Surah shows the beauty, peace and equality of Islam, where a dark-skinned, non-Arab, former slave was chosen over all others for this great honour.

It proves that in Islam the measure of a person is not his wealth, nationality or race but his piety and devotion to Allah, who sees us all as equal members of his wonderful creation.

What a just and amazing creator. Ameen.