Bilal al-Habashi – Inspiration for Muslim writers, muezzins

ADDIS ABABA (AA): An illustrious Islamic history unfolded in Medina when Prophet Muhammed appointed a freed slave with dark complexion and melodious voice to lead and recite the first call to prayer, Azaan. The tall, handsome man who rose to the occasion and became the first caller to prayer, muezzin, was Bilal al-Habashi, also known as Bilal ibnRabah.

Ali Ibrahim Bilal a young Imam who teaches Islam and empowers prayer callers with story of Bilal in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa told Anadolu Agency that Bilal “is an epitome of Islamic perseverance and moral integrity”. Ibrahim said that Bilal, who was a son of slave Ethiopian princess Hamamah and slave Arab father Rabah, had suffered from brutalities of his slave owner who was practicing idolatrous worship.

“Bilal had rebelled against his condition, and torture by his slave owner who wanted him to not convert to Islam,” Ibrahim noted, adding: “Against all odds, Bilal managed to be the first Ethiopian, African to embrace Islam and to be accepted by Islam.” “The story of Bilal is a living demonstration of Islam’s strong belief in equality of mankind that made it to stand against exclusion and all forms of racism,” he added. Dressed in a white Arabic ankle-length dress, thawb, Ibrahim along with two prayer callers was about to lead the mid-day prayers.

Hundreds of men and women, young and old, rich and poor worshippers packed the medium-sized Bilal mosque which is located at the western edge of Addis Ababa. “Here we are at Bilal mosque to perform what our icon, Bilal, did centuries ago,” said Jemal Ibrahim, a prayer caller who served the mosque for the last 2 decades. He ascended to the minaret with his colleague, Kedir Aba Rahmeto. The melodious call to prayer performed by the two prayer callers that had reverberated through the loudspeakers mounted on minarets of the mosque, the rhythm and pattern the solemn processions of the prayer had filled the mosque with overwhelming spirituality.

Haji Mohammed Abrar, the administrator of Bilal mosque, told Anadolu Agency that prayers at the mosque which was established in 1943, had always been unique and spiritually rewarding for various reasons. “First, worshippers believe that to pray from a mosque named after Bilal, who was the most trusted companion of prophet Muhammed, provides a unique spiritual connection to Allah and the prophet,” Abrar said. “Bilal’s Ethiopian root also attract believers to frequent the mosque,” he added.

“Moreover, as we observed, Bilal’s moral courage in overcoming challenges, and his loyalty to Islam and Prophet Mohammed are the other factors that motivate believers to pray and serve the mosque,” Abrar added. According to Abrar, the mosque had also foreign visitors who are filled with Bilal’s spirituality and contribution to Islam. “Many Muslims from Western Africa, Middle East and Pakistan, who happened to be in Addis Ababa had been visiting us. They often ask us for books and videos, but we don’t have them for now,” he added.

The two muezzins Ibrahim and Aba Rahemeto who led the call to prayer told Anadolu Agency that Bilal’s Islamic personality serves as a motivating factor in their religious and personal lives. “We are not better off, and payments are not sufficient to lead a decent life, but we have Bilal in our hearts, that help us overcome difficulties and serve our religion,” Rahmeto said. For his part, Ibrahim said that Bilal inspires us and “we recall his virtues while making prayer call five times a day. He is alive and lives with us.”

The eminence of Bilal al-Habashi is not confined to the predominantly Sunni Ethiopian Muslims who constitute nearly 40 percent of the 107 million population of the Horn of Africa country. TeferiAlemu, a writer and producer of radio documentary show, told Anadolu Agency that Bilal was a transcendental historical figure. “Our show and other stations had produced and aired documentaries that narrated the life and place Bilal occupies in Ethiopian history,” Alemu said, adding that Bilal was one of the most respected Ethiopian historical figures. “Many professionals in the media, creative arts and research want to further explore the depths of Bilal’s history,” he added.