Among the earliest converts to Islam, there were four who belonged to the ‘lowest of the low’: Sumayyah (rtaf), Yasar (rtam), Bilal (rtam) and Khabbab ibn Al-Aratt (rtam). As all of them were slaves, they had had limited interaction with the Prophet (sa) and only basic knowledge of Islam. Their faith stemmed from their sincere dedication to Tawheed and an unwavering belief in the truth of the Hereafter.
Why did they accept Islam so readily?
As impoverished slaves, they had nothing to lose in life – no status, no prestige or privilege, no wealth. For them, to accept Islam whole heartedly actually meant a gain in a world, whose chaos and violence made them perpetual targets of humiliation, servitude, and abuse. They realized that the only justification for such an existence, the only reward for bearing their lot in life was a belief that they would be recompensed in the Hereafter for their patience and willingness to do good sincerely.
Why did they withstand the torture?
Abuse was ‘normal’ for slaves. The social structure offered no protection or accountability, as in society they held no value as human beings. They realized their life was only as precious as their faith, for only that could guarantee them eternal peace in the Hereafter.
Was it a form of rebellion?
Yes, an ideological one. They stood firm in their verbal affirmation and realized the power of ‘Ahad’ and ‘La Illaha illa Allah’, which drove their tormentors crazy. They realized that the frailty of humans made moral laws incomplete in this world, so the ultimate justice could only be achieved in the Hereafter. To this end, they were willing to sacrifice themselves. Unlike us, they were so deprived of their physical needs, that they derived their strength and sustenance from their spirituality. Their innate Fitrah led them to recognize Tawheed instantly and understand the reality of this world and life after death. As such, they are the role models for revolutionaries, for whom the Quran and the Sunnah serve as manuals for embedding ideas so deeply that they lead to changes in actions, lifestyle and society.
Let us take a closer look at the two of the slave companions, who were blessed with the good tidings of Jannah by the Prophet (sa) himself.
Bilal (rtam) is one of the most well known companions of the Prophet (sa), who was reviled and humiliated on the basis of his social status of a slave and his race. Yet, it was through his unwavering faith that he gained precedence even over those companions of the Prophet (sa) who were socially most eminent. He was amongst the first seven to embrace Islam (one of the two slaves of African descent) and as such he stands amongst the fore-runners to the good – the Sabiqoon. His position as the first Muadhdhin and his practice of praying two Rakahs of Nafl after every ablution place him amongst the trendsetters. His actions and complete dedication to the Prophet (sa) embodied the true meaning of Ihsan.
Startling Facts about Bilal (rtam)
- Described as a ‘most handsome’ man by historians, Bilal (rtam) was the son of Abysinian princess, who accompanied the army of Abrahah and was taken captive and enslaved.
- As an intelligent hard worker, he was a favoured slave of Ummayah bin Khalaf.
- He was one of the seven, who first accepted Islam.
- Ummayah bin Khalaf most brutally tortured and almost killed him.
- He was freed by Abu Bakr (rtam), and as long as the Prophet (sa) lived, Bilal (rtam) remained his devoted and most trusted personal assistant, through whom even companions like Umar (rtam) had to seek permission to meet the Prophet (sa).
- Bilal (rtam) had the honour of being the first Muazzin in not only Madinah, but also Makkah and Jerusalem. On the day of conquest of Makkah, his act of climbing the Kaaba and calling out the Adhan was a testimony to Islam’s teachings of equality and brotherhood – previously treated as ‘the lowest of low’ in Makkah, he now stood in a position of power and prestige due to Islam.
Points to Ponder
- He was taunted throughout his life for being the ‘son of a black woman’. Some of the companions also erred in this way, but upon admonition, they repented and begged him for forgiveness.
- He was the trendsetter, who initiated the approved Sunnah of praying two units of voluntary prayers after each ablution. For this act alone, Allah (swt) showed to the Prophet (sa) a dream, in which Bilal’s (rtam) footsteps could be heard in Jannah.
- After the Prophet’s (sa) demise, he could not call the Adhan due to weeping every time he tried. He could not bear living in Madinah any longer and left to spend the rest of his life in Jihad, even though the eminent companions were unwilling to let him go.
- The last time he called the Adhan was at the time of the conquest of Jerusalem on the request of Omar (rtam).
- He was martyred in the plague, and most historians believe he did not have children.