Bilal ibn Rabah: The symbol of human equality

Updated 15 January 2015

Bilal ibn Rabah: The symbol of human equality

Bilal ibn Rabah (may Allah bless him) is one of the most illustrious names in the Islamic history. A Negro slave originally from Habasha (Ethiopia), Bilal is an evident story of Islam’s respect for human equality, anti-racism and social equity.
Born in 680CE in Makkah, to his slave parents — Rabah and Hamamah — Bilal too served as slave to a lady close to Umayyah ibn Khalaf, an arch enemy of Islam.
When Umayyah heard about Bilal converting to Islam, he tortured him and forced him to relinquish the new faith. But filled with love of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Islam, Bilal remained steadfast in his faith despite extreme torture and kept saying “Ahad, Ahad.” (Allah is One, Allah is One).
When the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) learned about his tribulation, he sent Abu Bakr, who bought him from the oppressor and freed him. The freedom was Islam’s first gift to Bilal. Second Caliph Omar ibn Khattab honored him by calling him as Sayyedna (our leader).
Bilal became one of the most trusted and loyal companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was among the first few persons to embrace Islam.
Bilal migrated with the Prophet to Madinah and participated in major battles including those of Badar, Ohud, Khandaq and others. In the battle of Badr, he killed the staunch enemy of Islam — and his own former tyrant master — Umayyah.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the first to declare equality among human beings in the annals of world history 1,400 years ago. In the presence of over 120,000 companions during Haj, he declared: O people! Your Lord is one Lord, and you all share the same father (Adam). Indeed, there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab or of a non-Arab over an Arab; or of a white over a black; nor a black over a white, except by taqwa (righteousness).
The Prophet selected Bilal to be one of his distinguished companions. Bilal’s rise to a position of prominence in Islam is evidence of the importance of pluralism and racial equality in Islam.
Once Abdullah bin Ziyad narrated that he had a dream advising him the method and words of Azaan (the call to prayer), the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) liked it and Bilal was deputed to call the first Azaan in Madinah in those words. When Omar heard the Azaan, he rushed to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and told him that he also had dreamt Azaan with the same wording. And thus the Azaan was established through Bilal. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) appointed him as the Muazzine Rasool (Calling to prayers on behalf of the Prophet).
As he was the first African to embrace Islam, the African Muslims still feel pride of that honor, which was bestowed on an African.
Another great honor came to Bilal after the Conquest of Makkah in 8 AH. When the city surrendered and all the nobles from the Muslims and the non-Muslims were standing in the courtyard, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) asked Bilal to climb the roof of the Holy Kaaba and give a call of Azaan from the top of it. This was the first Azaan, which was given in Makkah Mukarramah.
Such was Bilal’s devotion to Islam and piety that he rose to such heights of spiritual attainment.
Once the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “O Bilal, what special deeds you have done that I heard sounds of your walking steps ahead of me in Paradise.” Bilal said, “Whenever I make Wudu (ablution), I offer two units (rakah) of prayer as Tahayyatul Wudu.” Bilal was among Ashab Al-Suffa. The term, Ashab Al-Suffa, is a generic name given to the companions who stayed in the arbor, or veranda, next to the mosque of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madinah after the emigration and studied religious sciences there.
Since Bilal had this honor of being among Suffa, he collected many Hadiths (sayings) of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). Some 20 scholars formed part of Ashab Al-Suffa that included Osama bin Zaid, Bara bin Azeb and Abdullah bin Omar.
When King Najashi of Habasha sent three spears as gift to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), he gave one each to Omar, Ali and Bilal, who used the spear to fix for the direction of prayer.
After the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) passed away, Bilal felt it difficult to spend time in Madinah without his beloved Prophet (peace be upon him). He asked then Caliph Abu Bakr to let him go to Syria for jihad. And there he spent the rest of his life. He made azaan only twice since then. The first was when Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab came to Syria and the second time when he visited the tomb of Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madinah. Upon hearing his voice, people started to cry, for it reminded them of the days of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Bilal left Madinah for Syria (then Sham) and stayed there. When Caliph Omar visited Bait Al -Maqdis (Jerusalem), he requested Bilal to call Azaan which he accepted. And when he called Azaan, the companions wept bitterly remembering the olden days. It is said that Caliph Omar cried and wept as he never wept before.
When Bilal was in Syria, he saw the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) in dream, saying, “O Bilal, What is that, you did not visit me.” Bilal was worried; he rushed to Madinah and offered his tributes and greetings at the grave of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) weeping and rubbing his face with the grave.
When he saw Hassan and Husain, the grandsons of the Prophet, he rushed to embrace them. On their request, Bilal said Azaan with a shaking voice and tearing eyes. On hearing Bilal’s azaan, the people rushed to the Prophet’s Mosque. This was his last Azaan in Madinah.
Bilal spent his last days in Syria. He died in 18 AH at the age of 64, and was buried at Bab-Al Sagheer near Jama Umavi in Damascus. He served the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) for 25 years.
Islam raised him to the status that one of the strongmen like Omar bin Khattab addressed him as Saiyydana (our leader).
While on death bed, his wife Hind cried, ‘wa hazanaa’ (what a great grief), to which Bilal replied, ‘Wa Tarabaa’ (what a great joy); “Tomorrow I will meet with my loved ones — Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions,” he is said to have told his wife.


The beauty of prayer in Islam

Updated 23 September 2016

The beauty of prayer in Islam

GOING deeper into our spiritual state during prayers (salah) requires that we have a presence of heart and are mindful of the words being said during the prayers.
Our prayer will feel shorter, yet when we look at how much time we actually spent, we will think, “Did I just spend 10 minutes?” or even 15 and 20 minutes.
A person who began applying this said he wished the prayer would never end.
A feeling that Ibn Al-Qayyim describes as “what the competitors compete for… it is nourishment for the soul and the delight of the eyes,” and he also said, “If this feeling leaves the heart, it is as though it is a body with no soul.”

The love of Allah
Some people’s relationship with Allah is limited to following orders and leaving prohibitions, so that one does not enter hell. Of course, we must follow orders and leave prohibitions, but it needs to be done out of more than fear and hope; it should also be done out of love for Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an: “… Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him.” (Qur’an, 5:54)
We often find that when a lover meets the beloved, hearts are stirred and there is warmth in that meeting. Yet when we meet Allah, there is not even an ounce of this same feeling. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And (yet) among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals (to Him). They love them as they (should) love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Qur’an, 2:165)
And those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. There should be a feeling of longing, and when we raise our hands to start the prayer, warmth and love should fill our hearts because we are now meeting with Allah. A dua of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “O Allah, I ask You for the longing to meet You” (An-Nisa’i, Al-Hakim)
Ibn Al-Qayyim says in his book Tareeq Al-Hijratain that Allah loves His Messengers and His believing servants, and they love Him and nothing is more beloved to them than Him. The love of one’s parents has a certain type of sweetness, as does the love of one’s children, but the love of Allah far supersedes any of that. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Any person who combines these three qualities will experience the sweetness of faith: 1) that God and His messenger are dearer to him than anything else; 2) that his love of others is purely for God’s sake; and 3) that he hates to relapse into disbelief as much as he hates to be thrown in the fire.” (Bukhari)
Thus, the first thing he mentioned was: “… that God and His messenger are more beloved to him than anything else…”
Ibn Al-Qayyim says: “Since ‘there is nothing like unto Him’ (Qur’an, 42:11), there is nothing like experiencing love for Him.”
If you feel this love for Him, it will be a feeling so intense, so sweet, that you would wish the prayer would never ever end.
Do you truly want to feel this love? Then ask yourself: ‘why do you or should you love Allah?’
Know that you love people for one (or all, in varying degrees) of three reasons: For their beauty, because of their exalted character or/and because they have done good to you. And know that Allah combines all of these three to the utmost degree.

All-embracing beauty
We’ve all been touched by beauty. It is almost fitrah (natural disposition) to love what is beautiful. Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said about the Prophet, peace be upon him, that it was “as if the sun is shining from his face.” Jabir (may God be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah was more handsome, beautiful, and radiant than the full moon” (Tirmidhi)
Allah made all His Prophets have a certain beauty so that people would have a natural inclination toward them.
And beauty is more than what is in the face, because beauty is in all of creation and somehow has the ability to take our breath away and give us peace simultaneously. The glimmer of the crescent moon on a calm night, the intensity of a waterfall as the water drops for thousands of feet, the sunset by the sea … certain scenes of natural unspoiled beauty stirs something in us. As Allah is the One Who made it beautiful, so what of Allah’s beauty?
Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”
This fitrah for loving what is beautiful is because Allah is beautiful. One of His Names is Al-Jameel (the Most Beautiful). Ibn Al-Qayyim states that the beauty of Allah is something that a person cannot imagine and only He knows it. There is nothing of it in creation save for glimpses.
Ibn Al-Qayyim says if all of creation were the most beautiful they could be (so let’s imagine, ever single human being looked as beautiful as Yusuf, peace be upon him, and the whole world was like Paradise), and all of them combined from the beginning of time until the Day of Judgment, they would not even be like a ray in comparison to the sun when compared to Allah. Allah’s beauty is so intense that we will not even be able to take it in this life. In the Qur’an, Allah describes Musa’s (peace be upon him) request: “And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.’ (Allah) said: ‘You will not see Me but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious.” (Qur’an, 7:143)
Even the mountain could not bear the beauty of Allah and crumbled, and when Musa, peace be upon him, saw this (he did not even see Allah), he fell unconscious. This is why on the Day of Judgment it is Allah’s light that will shine on everything. We talk about breathtaking beauty, but we have yet to experience Allah’s beauty. While things in this world can be beautiful or majestic or if they combine both they are finite, true majesty and beauty are for Allah: “And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” (Qur’an, 55:27)
Keeping all of this in mind, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Allah directs His Face toward the face of His servant who is praying, as long as he does not turn away” (Tirmidhi).
Remember this in your prayer, and ask Allah to allow you the joy of seeing Him in Paradise.