The Islamic prophet Muhammad chose Bilal as his muezzin, effectively making him the first official muezzin of the Islamic faith. He was among the slaves freed by Abu Bakr and was known for his beautiful voice with which he called people to their prayers. His name can also be spelled as, "Bilal ibn Riyah" or "ibn Rabah" and he is sometimes known as "Bilal al-Habashi" or "Bilal the Ethiopian". He died sometime between 638 to 642, dying when he was just over sixty years old.
Bilal Ibn Rabah, was an emancipated slave of key importance in Islam. He is said to have been one of the most trusted and loyal companions of Muhammad and was one of Ali's earliest and most loyal followers. His respected stature during the birth of Islam is often cited by Muslims as evidence of the importance of pluralism and racial equality in the foundations of the religion.
According to Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Zaid went to Muhammad with his story and Muhammad, approving, told him to ask an Ethiopian named Bilal, who had a marvelous voice, to call the Muslims to prayer. As Ibn Ishaq told the story (in Albert Guillaume's translation):
When the Apostle was told of this he said that it was a true vision if God so willed it, and that he should go to Bilal and communicate it to him so that he might call to prayer thus, for he had a more penetrating voice. When Bilal acted as muezzin, Umar I, who later became the second caliph, heard him in his house and came to the Apostle... saying that he had seen precisely the same vision. The Apostle said 'God be praised for that!'
Though slightly different versions of the story exist, all agree that Islam's first muezzin was Bilal.
One version states that one of the slaves of Ummaya, a terrible foe of Islam and Muhammad, was named Bilal. Bilal learnt about Muhammad and his teachings and became Muslim, but kept his belief in secret. However, his master Ummaya came to know that he had opted to be a Muslim. So he started punishing him. He ordered his slaves to make him lay on the hot sand and put heavy stones on his body so that he could not move. He continued to purnish him day and night but despite the punishments this great lover of Islam and Muhammad just preferred to say only one thing (only one God, only one God). Soon news of this slave reached some of Muhammad's companions who told Muhammad of a slave. Muhammad then sent Abu Baker to buy Bilal's freedom from Ummayah (Bilal's slave master). Muhammad later learned of Bilal's unique way of praying and unique voice with which he spoke from the soul and as a result of this Bilal became the first muezzin.
Later on, some people suggested that this honour should be given to someone else, because Bilal could not pronounce the Arabic letter 'sheen' properly and instead used the letter 'seen' (the two sounds had merged in "s" in classical Ge'ez). Muhammad said, "The 'sin' of Bilal is 'shin' in the hearing of God," meaning that God does not see the physical manifestation; he appreciates the purity of heart. Bilal felt deep love for Muhammad, and he is quoted as reciting some lines of poetry in his own language, Ethiopian, in the praise of Muhammad. Hassan bin Thabit al-Ansari has translated it into Arabic:
He fought in the Battle of Badr, in the aftermath of which he killed his former master, Umayah ibn Khalaf, in spite of the protestation of Umayah's capturer and long-time friend Abd-al-Rahman ibn Awf. Bilal was also present in all of the major events and battles, including the battles of Uhud and Battle of The Trench.
Bilal's finest hour came in January 630, on an occasion regarded as one of the most hallowed moments in Islamic history. After the Muslim forces had captured Mecca, Muhammad's muezzin ascended to the top of the Ka'ba to call the believers to prayer - the first time the call to prayer was heard within Islam's holiest city.
After the death of Muhammed , Usama ibn Zaid continued a military expedition to Syria, as commanded by Muhammad. However, it is very uncertain if that is the army Bilal accompanied.
Other Sunni authors say Muhammad's death signaled the end of Bilal's career as a muezzin, and that he called the faithful to prayer only twice more in his life - once in Syria and a second time, in Medina, when he was specifically asked to do so by Muhammad's grandsons, Hassan and Husayn.
The Sunni scholar Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti in his Tarikh al-Khulaf writes:
He (Bilal) died in Damascus in 17 or 18 AH, but some say 20 AH, or even 21 AH when he was just over sixty years old. Some said he died in Madinah, but that is wrong. That is how it is in al-Isabah and other works such as the Tahdhib of an-Nawawi. (ref)
Shi'a state that Bilal was one of Ali's devouted followers after the death of the Muhammad, and that he died in Damascus around 20 AH, and was buried in Bab Saghir, and that his grave in Damascus is visited by thousands of devoted Muslims every year.(ref)
Bilal was devoted to the Ahl ul-Bayt and used to publicly show his support for them.
The Shi'a Imam Jafar al-Sadiq is recorded as having said, "May God bless Bilal! He loved us, the family of Muhammad, and was one of the most pious servants of God."
bgcolor=#F0FFF0|If anyone wishes to see the real spirit of Islam, he will find it, not in the deeds of the nouveaux riches of Medina, but in the life, character and deeds of such companions of the Apostle of God as Ali ibn Abi Talib, Salman the Persian, Abu Dharr el-Ghiffari, Ammar ibn Yasir, Owais Qarni and Bilal. The orientalists will change their assessment of the spirit of Islam if they contemplate it in the austere, pure and sanctified lives of these latter companions.