To read about the life of of Bilal al-Habashi, one of the first converts to Islam and the first caller to prayer was very emotional. This book by Hilal Kara and Abdullah Kara tells of his early life in enslavement, him meeting the Prophet salallahu alayhi wa salam and accepting Islam, his resilience and taqwah through the torture he endured, being 'bought and freed' by Abu Bakr, immigration to Medina, beginning the call to prayer, the death of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wa salam and time outside of Medina in the path of Allah.
The story telling nature of this book is captivating and invokes a hopeful perspective and one of gratitude throughout. It reminds me that Allah only wants what's best for us, and that we are put through trails so that we may turn to Him. I'm reminded that I do not exist solely for this world and my experiences here, but for the hope of Allah's mercy and to be of those in Jannah. Allah make us of those who are given his mercy and have a place in Jannah, Aamen.
Excerpt: Who could have known what wisdom lay behind all that had happened and all the gut-wrenching agony they had experienced?
That some things that were seemingly good were in actuality evil, and that some of those things that appeared evil were essentially good.
That the difficulties they faced actually lifted the curtains enabling them to see the reality that would lead them to perfection, were each a bounty, Divine-bestowed, to enable them to earn eternal happiness, and that the path to Paradise was paved with patiently enduring all difficulties.
The experiences described are unimaginably tragic and force us to realise our own tests and hardships are full of Allah's mercy, Alhamdulillah.
The resilience Bilal al-Habashi, may Allah be pleased with him, showed in the face of oppression and discrimination can only be understood and appreciated in the context of belief. Without the strongest belief in Allah and His divine wisdom we can't fathom why someone would endure torture when there was seemingly a way to stop it- by declaring disbelief in Allah.
Bilal, entirely reliant upon Allah was rewarded for what he went through, becoming one of The Prophet's sallallahu alayhi wa sallam closest companions and becoming the first caller to prayer.
Just a quick note: when writing this post I attempted to check the authenticity of the narrations from the book that I was including, and unfortunately my research showed some to be fabricated and some to be weak. I have included a weak one. For other excerpts I have included the reference given in the book if there was one. For these reasons I feel this reading reflection may seem incomplete so apologies for that.
As students of Islam we hear about the significance of the first converts being from all parts of society, including Bilal who was an African in enslavement. His importance extends beyond that as he was the the first caller to prayer- something so significant in encouraging Islam amongst the Muslims and others in Medina.
It is also instrumental in opposing the racism, discrimination and slavery that existed at the time and that still exists today. Bilal even added this part to the call to prayer himself: As-salatu khayrun min'an nawm. Prayer is better than sleep.
As described in the book, he called outside the Prophet's sallallahu alayhi wa sallam house with these words. The Messenger sallallahu alayhi wa sallam instructed him "What beautiful words, O Bilal! Add this to the call to prayer." (This hadith is weak according to Ibn Majah)
Excerpt (when Bilal visited Syria): Umar's freed slave Aslam offers an account of that day: "When Bilal began reciting the call to Prayer, all who heard him wept. I have never seen another day where the people cried like they did on that day. Though they have never heard his voice, everyone in Damascus who heard his voice that day said, "This is the call to Prayer of Bilal al-Habashi." (no reference)
Today we can see the power the call to prayer has across the world, I can only imagine what it was like hearing it after living in the time of the Prophet and then after his passing, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam.
Learning about the life of Bilal not only exemplifies his patience and devotion but also his regard for others and his sincerity in the religion. There's a story that Bilal himself relates of him helping Fatima in her house after hearing her son crying, Bilal rushed to the Prophet's sallallahu alayhi wa sallam Mosque but was late and the call to prayer had been recited and the prayer observed. When he told The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him, where he had been, the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam made the dua "You showed mercy to her, may Allah show mercy to you." (Ibn Manzur, Mukhtasar, 5:263)
This illustrates the character of Bilal; generous and caring, and can be a reminder to us of the importance of showing and prioritising mercy to others. We can be so harsh to each other over small things, but don't we hope for mercy and protection from the Fire?
Excerpt: When Damascus and its surrounds were conquered, he objected to Umar's judgement concerning the conquered lands. Such eminent Companions as Mu-adh ibn Jabal and Zubayr ibn al-Awwam supported Bilal in his views. Bilal penned a letter to Umar, and after reminding him of the Messenger's practice following the conquest of Khaybar, he said: "You are only entitled to one-fith of fa'y revenue. The rest of it belongs to the soldiers. (who fought the battle.) (Ibn Manzur, Mukhtasar, 1:321-234)
Bilal spent so much time learning the religion and was in one of the best positions to uphold the laws of Allah and His Messenger, may He bestow peace and blessings upon him.
Here are three reminders from the life of Bilal I've experienced whilst reading this book:
Reminder 1- It is our duty to learn the religion and uphold its laws to the best of our ability.
Reminder 2- Always have reliance on Allah, even when you struggle to imagine a way out of hardship and suffering.
Reminder 3- Even in the face of oppression and prejudice, even within a society where there are people who are unjust and are disbelievers, and who do not see or treat you with equality, one person can still influence countless others through Islam.
I would recommend this book as an insight into the life of Bilal in Makkah and Medina, just be cautious of sharing information without doing a little research for sources, in sha Allah.
And a final, favourite excerpt of mine:
Excerpt: The actual affliction is not the affliction itself. The real affliction is to be crushed beneath one's grief, is constant lamentation and remonstrance, and the failure to think about looking at the mercy behind the veil, or at the very least, to think about being hopeful. The failure to turn to to Allah, the All-Merciful, and entreat in Him for the opening of the doors of mercy, is to be dragged towards being one of those who lose.
You can buy Bilal al-Habashi, An Exemplar of Patience and Devotion by Abdullah Kara and Hilal Kara here (affiliate link)