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Last Updated: 2008/07/02
Summary of question
What is the Sunni opinion on Bilal al-Habashi?
What is the Sunni opinion on Bilal al-Habashi?
Concise answer

What Sunni references say about the great sahabi, Bilal, is that he was freed by Abu Bakr, a resistant believer against the tortures of the Kuffar, the Prophet's Mu'adhin, and one of the Mujahidin (soldiers) of Islam in different battles alongside the Prophet (pbuh). After the Prophet's demise, he left Madinah for Damascus and passed away there.

Detailed Answer

Bilal was the son of Ribah and Hamamah[1] who was transferred from Habashah to the Arabian Peninsula as a prisoner. He became the slave of Umayyah ibn Khalaf who was one of the heads of Quraysh.

After the dawn of Islam, he was one of the first to openly and contently embrace it,[2] although his owner, Umayyah was one of those striving to abolish it. Bilal was one of Mustath'af (poor and weak) Muslims[3], whom when became Muslim, was tortured by the disbelievers to turn away from it. It is said that in the beginning, seven people openly announced their conversion to Islam in which one of those seven was Bilal. Each of these seven were either strong individuals in the Makkan society back then whose words had go, or were supported by their tribes. In both cases, they were free of any pressure and torture or would be helped out after being bothered and tortured. The only exception was Bilal; he had no one to be on his side.[4] In order for Bilal to take back his Islam, Umayyah would harshly and violently torture him, yet Bilal would refuse to give up. It is said that Abu Bakr bought Bilal from Umayyah and subsequently freed him. The Shia also believe in this issue, although the author of Qamusul-Rijal has doubted in it and has quoted from the book Naqz Uthmaniyyah, work of Iskafi, that Bilal was freed by the Prophet himself, but this might be because he was freed by the order of Rasulullah, even though he was paid for by Abu Bakr.[5]

After Madinah became Islam's headquarters, he had the honor of being the Prophet's personal mu'adhin and was with him in all battles.[6]

History shows that Bilal was a resistant individual who would stand up and tolerate all the hardships for his strong faith. After the Prophet's demise, he left Madinah for Damascus.

The only potential difference between the Shia and Sunnis is the reason behind why he left Madinah.

Shia scholars believe that he didn’t want to say the adhan for anyone other than Rasulullah (pbuh),[7] because:


1- There are traditions from the imams that say: "Bilal was a righteous servant (of Allah), he said that after Rasulullah, I will not say the adhan for anyone, from then on, the phrase " "حی علی خیر العملwas removed from the adhan."[8]

2- Sunni historical traditions also clearly state that Bilal refused to say the adhan for the khalifahs after the Prophet (pbuh); Waqedi reports: "After the Prophet's demise till his burial, Bilal continued to say the adhan and whenever he would recite the phrase اشهد ان محمد رسول الله, the people in the mosque would cry in high voices. After his burial, Abu Bakr asked Bilal to once again say the adhan, Bilal replied: If you have freed me (from slavery) for yourself and for me to be with you, then I will do as told, but if you have freed me for the sake of Allah (swt), then let me be free in His way. Abu Bakr answered: I freed you solely for the sake of Allah (swt). Bilal said: (Then) I refuse to say the adhan for anyone after Rasulullah (pbuh). Abu Bakr said: You are free not to do so. Bilal stayed in Madinah for a short while and when the army left for Damascus, he went along with them and remained there.[9] In Al-Isabah, Asqalani narrates that after the Prophet's death, Bilal went to Damascus for jihad.[10]

In contrast to this viewpoint, there is another viewpoint that says that after the Prophet's death, Bilal went to Abu Bakr saying: Oh successor of Rasulullah! I have heard the Prophet (pbuh) say that the best of all deeds is jihad in the way of Allah (swt). Abu Bakr said: What do you mean by that? Bilal answered: I want to go for jihad and fight in Allah's way and be blessed martyrdom. Abu Bakr implored him not to go and said: I am old and feeble, and my death is edging ever close. Bilal remained with Abu Bakr and after his death, went to Umar and repeated what he had said to Abu Bakr and heard the same reply, but this time, he rejected Umar's request.[11] In another weak narration, it has been said that when Umar went to Damascus, Bilal said the adhan for him.[12]

Of course, the first tradition doesn’t contradict the traditions that the Shia refer to. In addition to being a weak and unauthentic one, the second one in no way says that he was the khalifas' official mu'adhin and recited the adhan for them in their presence.

Conclusion: According to their sources, neither the Shia nor the Sunnis accept that Bilal was the khalifas’ official mu'adhin.

His passing has been recorded between the year seventeen and the twenty (a.h.), during the reign of Umar.[13]

[1]Al-Isti’ab, v.1, pg. 179.

[2]In historical records, Bilal has been counted as the fourth or fifth person to embrace Islam. Biharul-Anwar, v.18, pg. 229.

[3]Biharul-Anwar, v.17, pg. 41, al-Tabaqatul-Kubra, v.3, pg. 175, Ansabul-Ashraf, v.1, pg. 156.

[4]Refer to: Al-Tabaqatul-Kubra, v.3, pg. 175, Ansabul-Ashraf, v.1, pg. 156.

[5]Ayatullah Ja’far Subhani, Shakhsiyyat-haye-Eslamiye Shi’eh, v.1 and 2, al-Isti’ab, v.1, pg. 182, Asadul-Ghabah, v.1, pg. 243.

[6]Al-A’lam, v.2, pg. 73.

[7]Al-Ikhtisas, pg. 71.

[8]Man La Yahdhuruhul-Faqih, v.1, pg. 283.

[9]Translation of Tabaqatul-Kubra, v.3, pg. 202, al-Tabaqatul-Kubra, v.2, pg. 178, Asadul-Ghabah, v.1, pg. 243, al-Isti’ab, v.1, pg. 82.

[10]Ansabul-Ashraf, v.1, pg. 526, al-Isabah, v.1, pg. 456.

[11]Translation of Tabaqatul-Kubra, v.3, pg. 202, al-Tabaqatul-Kubra, v.2, pg. 178, Asadul-Ghabah, v.1, pg. 244.

[12]Asadul-Ghabah, v.1, pg. 244.

[13]Asadul-Ghabah, v.1, pg. 245, Ansabul-Ashraf, v.1, pg. 526, Dala’elul-Nubuwwah, v.1, pg. 348, Amta’ul-Asma’, v.6, pg. 350.

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