Praise: Bilal stands on top of the mosque in this interpretation of the first Caller to Prayer. *Creative Commons photo
Praise: Bilal stands on top of the mosque in this interpretation of the first Caller to Prayer. *Creative Commons photo

Many people in Bermuda, and even those in the West, often refer to Islam as the religion of the Arabs, this is not so and in celebration of Black History Month, I would like to honour Bilal, the first muezzin (Caller to Prayer) and share this story with you.

Many years ago, in Mecca, there lived a slave called Bilal. Bilal’s master was a hard, cruel man called Umaya. He was wealthy and powerful and demanded that all his slaves worship like him. 

Now, Umaya worshipped many idols. 

One day, Umaya called Bilal, gave him a whip, and ordered him to beat another slave. 

“He says there is only one God,” said Umaya, “and that every person is important. The whip will teach him a lesson.” However, the sight of the whip did not frighten the slave. Endlessly he called out, “One God, only one God.” 

His courage inspired Bilal to believe in the belief of one God and he could not whip such a man of courage and belief. 

Disobeyed

Umaya was angry. Not only had Bilal disobeyed him but now he too stood in the courtyard shouting, “One God, only one God.” 

Soon all the slaves would revolt. Bilal must be taught a lesson, so Umaya ordered that Bilal’s hands and feet be tied. Then Bilal was dragged outside the city wall to lay, without shelter, on the sands under the scorching Arab sun. 

Despite this tremendous hardship, Bilal continued to shout, “One God, only one God.” 

The shouting angered Umaya and filled him with even more rage  and he ordered a heavy rock to be placed on Bilal’s chest. 

Under the weight of the rock Bilal could hardly breathe. But still through dry, cracked lips he whispered, “One God, only one God.”

Now it happened that Abu Bakr, a follower of the Prophet, was passing by. 

Shocked, he went to Umaya to ask how anyone could treat another in that way. 

“He is my slave, I’ll do what I like with him,” said Umaya. “If you do not like it, you can always buy him.”

So Abu Bakr bought Bilal and he, too, became a follower of the Prophet. 

Bilal and the others decided to build a place where they could worship God. When it was finished they had to decide on the best way to call the people to prayer. Should they use a bell or a drum, a horn or maybe even a trumpet? But they could not agree. Then Abdullah, another of the Prophet’s followers, spoke about a dream he had, in which he heard a man’s voice calling the people to prayer. All agreed this was a fine solution –– just the human voice on its own. 

But who was to have this honour? 

The Prophet placed his arm around Bilal’s shoulder. “Yours shall be the voice, Bilal,” he said, “the voice that praised God even from under a rock.” 

Bilal raced up to the top of the mud roof of the mosque. He stood still, staring at the people down below. 

Then he threw back his head, raised his voice, and from deep inside him came the words that still echo, five times a day, in the towns and villages of Islam: 

“Allahu Akbar, God is most Great. I witness that there is no God but Allah. I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God. Come to prayer. Come to salvation.”