Bilal Ibn Rabah, also known among the early Muslims as Bilal al-Habashi was a close companion of the Prophet Muhammed (p). Bilal was one of the first people who had embraced Islam during the early Makkan period. He was also one of the first people to get persecuted. He was relentlessly tortured by his master for accepting Islam. Below are some of the earliest documented reports on Bilal’s early life and how he was persecuted and tortured for his new belief.
Ibn Ishaq (704 – 768 AD) recounts how Bilal was tortured by Umayya:
“The Polytheists Persecute The Muslims Of The Lower Classes
“Then the Quraysh showed their enmity to all those who followed the Apostle; every clan which contained Muslims attacked them, imprisoning them, and beating them, allowed them no food or drink, and exposing them to the burning heat of Mecca, so as to seduce them from their religion. Some gave way under pressure of persecution, and others resisted them, being protected by God.
Bilal, who was afterwards freed by Abu Bakr but at that time belonged to one of B. Jumah, being slave born, was a faithful Muslim, pure of heart. His father’s name was Ribah and his mother was Hamama. Umayya b. Khalaf b. Wahb b. Hudhafa b. Jumah used to bring him out at the hottest part of the day and throw him on his back in the open valley and have a great rock put on his chest; then he would say to him, ‘You will stay here till you die or deny Muhammad and worship Al-Lat and al-Uzza.’
He used to say while he was enduring this, ‘One, One’! Hisham b. Urwa told me on the authority of his father: Waraqa b. Naufal was passing him while he was being thus tortured and saying, ‘One, One,’ and he said, ‘One, One, by God, Bilal.’
Then he went to Umayya and those of B. Jumah who had thus maltreated him, and said, ‘I swear by God that if you kill him this way I will make his tomb a shrine.’ One day Abu Bakr passed by while they were thus ill-treating him, for his house was among his clan. He said to Umayya, ‘Have you no fear of God that you treat this poor fellow like this?
How long is it to go on?’ He replied, ‘You are the one who corrupted him, so save him from his plight that you see.’ (Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah – The Life of Muhammad Translated by A. Guillaume, [Oxford University Press – Seventeenth Impression 2004], page 143 – 144)
Musnad – Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal (780 – 855 AD):
“3832. It was narrated that Abdullah said: The first ones to show Islam openly were seven: the Messenger of Allah, Abu Bakr, Ammar and his mother Sumayyah, Suhaib, Bilal, and al-Miqdad. As for the Messenger of Allah, Allah protected him by means of his paternal uncle Abu Talib.
As for Abu Bakr, Allah protected him by means of his people. As for the rest of them, the mushrikoon (polytheists) took them and clothed them in shirts of iron, and they exposed them to the heat of the sun, and there was not one of them but he did what they wanted him to do, except Bilal,
for he did not care what was done to him for the sake of Allah and his people did not care what happened to him. They handed him over to the children who paraded him around the streets of Makkah as he was saying: One, One.” (English Translation of Musnad Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal, volume 3, Page 385 – 386 (Isnad Hasan))
Muhammed Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838 – 923 AD):
“…Abd al-rahman continued: And, by God, while I was leading them, Bilal saw him with me. It was Umayyah who used to torture Bilal in Mecca in an attempt to make him abandon Islam. He used to take him out the sun-baked ground of Mecca when it was scorching hot and make him lie down on his back.
Then he would order a huge boulder to be placed on his chest, and then he would say, ‘You will stay like this until you leave the faith of Muhammed.’ Bilal would say, ‘God is one, God is one.’” (The History of al-Tabari (Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk) – The Foundation of the community , Volume 7, page 59)
Sunan Ibn Majah (824 – 887 AD):
“It was narrated that Anas bin Malik said: “The Messenger of Allah said: ‘I have been tortured for the sake of Allah as no one else has, and I have suffered fear for the sake of Allah as no one else has. I have spent three days when Bilal and I had no food that any living being could eat but that which could be concealed in the armpit of Bilal.’” (Sunan Ibn Majah volume 1, Book 1, Hadith 151, Hasan – Darussalam, http://sunnah.com/urn/1251510 )
Targheeb Wat Tarheeb – Imam Al-Mundhiri (1185 – 1258):
“Anas reports that the Prophet said, I have been harassed for the sake of Allah like none other and I have been threatened for the sake of Allah like none other. Thirty consecutive days and nights pass by without myself and Bilal having enough for a living being to eat. All that we could get was so little that it could be hidden in the armpit of Bilal.” (Targheeb Wat Tarheeb, volume 5, page 159. See also Al Bidaya Wa Nihaaya, by Ibn Kathir volume 3, page 47)
Hilya – Abu Nu’aym (947 – 1038):
“Abdullah Ibn Mas’ood narrates that seven persons were the first to make their conversion to Islam public. These were the Prophet, Abu Bakr, Ammar, his mother (Sumayya), Suhayb, Bilal and Miqdad. While Allah protected the Prophet through his uncle and Abu Bakr through his tribe, the others were captured by the mushrikeen (polytheists) and made to wear coats of steel armour and left to swelter in the sun. Each one of them beside Bilal were compelled to do as the mushrikeen (polytheist) wanted. For the pleasure of Allah, he thought nothing of himself.
Because the people regarded him as an inferior being, they used to capture him and hand him over to youngsters who would pull him through the streets of Makkah. All the while, he kept saying, ‘Ahad! Ahad! (Allah is One!).” (Hilya by Abu Nu’aym, volume 1, page 149; Ibn Shayba quoted in Kanzul Ummaal volume 7, page 14, and Isti’aab by Ibn Abdil Barr, volume 2, page 141)
Mustadrak – Al-Haakim Nishapuri (933 – 1012):
“Occasionally he would drape him in cowhide or fit him out with a suit of armour and force him to sit in the scorching sun. Even in this state horrible torture, the words, ‘Ahad, Ahad’ would emanate from his tongue. Umayyah, his master, realised that Bilal’s determination and tenacity was not influenced in the least, he tied a rope around his neck and commited him to charge of some young boys who continued dragging him around the city despite these odds he persisted in uterring the words, ‘Ahad, Ahad.’” (Mustadrak al-Haakim, volume 3, page 284)
Hilya – Abu Nu’aym al-Isfahani (947 – 1038):
“Mujahid narrates that the (poor) Muslims were made wear coats of steel armour and then left to swelter in the sun. They suffered terribly from the combined heat of the sun and the scorching armour. When night fell, Abu Jahal would come to them with his spear and start taunting and threatening them.” (Hilya, by Abu Nu’aym, volume 1, page 140)
Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kubra – Ibn Sa’d (784 -845 AD):
“Mujahid narrates that the polytheists (Mushrikeen) used to lead Bilal through the two mountains of Makkah with a rope around his neck.” (Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, by Ibn Sa’d, volume 2, page 166)
Isaaba – Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (1372 – 1449):
“Urwa Ibn Subayr narrates that Bilal was a slave of a lady from Banu Jumh tribe. The polytheists (Mushrikeen) used to torture him on the burning sands of Makkah, making him lie flat on the hot sand (and place a heavy rock on his chest) so that he should commit disbelief (shirk). However, he would continuously say, ‘Ahad! Ahad!’ When Warqaq (bin Naufal, the cousin of Khadeeja) would pass as Bilal was being tortured, he would say, ‘Ahad, Ahad, O Bilal’! (Allah is certainly One). (Addressing the polytheists (Mushrikeen), he would say) by Allah! If you kill this man, I shall definitely make his grave a place of attracting Allah’s blessings and mercy.’” (Isaaba, by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, volume 3, page 634)
Hilya – Abu Nu’aym(947 – 1038):
“Urwa narrates that when Waraqa bin Naufal used to pass by Bilal as he was being tortured and calling out ‘Ahad’ (‘Allah is One’), he would say, ‘Allah is One, O Billal.’ Waraqa Bin Naufal would then turn to Umayyah Ibn Khalaf who was responsible for torturing Bilal and say, ‘ swear by Allah that if you kill this man, I shall definitely making his grave a place of attracting Allah’s blessings and mercy.’
Eventually when Abu Bakr passed by day as the polytheists were torturing Bilal, he said to Umayyah, ‘Do you not fear Allah for (what you are doing to) this poor man? Until when will you continue?’
Umayyah said, ‘It is you who had landed him into this trouble. You may rescue him from this treatment you are witnessing.’ Abu Bakr said, ‘I am prepared to do so. Before migrating to Madinah, Abu Bakr set free seven slaves besides Bilal for the pleasure of Allah.” (Hilya, by Abu Nu’aym, volume 1, page 148)