Bilal Habashi was among the pioneers of Islam. He was a slave of Umayya ibn Khalaf, one of the leading figures of the polytheist Quraysh. Since he accepted Islam in its very early days, he was made to suffer unbearable tortures. They made him lie on burning sand in the desert and put very heavy stones on his chest, leaving him in the sun for long periods. They also whipped him frequently but every time he was subjected to such tortures, he declared ‘One, One, God is One!’ After years of torture, Abu Bakr, may God be pleased with him, bought him from his master and emancipated him immediately.
After the Hijra, the great migration of Muslims to Madina, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, made Bilal his mu’adhdhin-the caller to prayer. He was so esteemed among the Companions that Umar the second Caliph, said of him: ‘Bilal is our master (meaning Abu Bakr) emancipated him’.
The ideal of equality and human brotherhood is explicitly enjoined in the Qur’an and discrimination on the basis of nation or race (tribe) is explicitly rejected: 0 mankind! We created you of a man and woman and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. The best and most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most pious and God-fearing among you. Surely God is the All-Knowing, the All-Aware. (49.13)
Abu Dharr, the leader of the tribe of Ghifar, and one who accepted Islam in its early days, narrates: ‘Once I was conversing with Bilal. Our conversation gave way to a dispute. Angry with him, the following insult burst from my mouth: ‘You cannot comprehend this, 0 son of a black woman!’
As Islam expressly forbade all kinds of racial, tribal and colour discrimination, Bilal was both upset and greatly angered.
A while later a man came and told me that the Messenger of God, upon him be peace and blessings, summoned me. I went to him immediately. He said to me:
“I have been informed that you addressed Bilal as the son of a black woman.”
I was deeply ashamed and could say nothing. God’s Messenger continued his reprimand: “This means you still retain the standards and judgements of the pre-Islamic days of ignorance. Islam has eradicated all those false standards or measures judging people by blood, fame, colour or wealth. It has established that the best and most honourable of men is he who is the most pious and upright in conduct. Is it right to defame a believer just because he is black?”
Abu Dharr felt profound remorse. He went straight to Bilal’s house and, putting his head on the threshold, said: This head will not rise from here until the blessed feet of Bilal tread on the face of foolish, impolite Abu Dharr.’
Bilal responded:” That face deserves to be kissed, not trodden upon’, and forgave Abu Dharr.
Zayd ibn Haritha was one of the first four people to accept Islam. Slave traders had kidnapped him from his parents and sold him in the Makkan market. Khadija, the future wife of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, bought him and, upon her marriage, gave him to her husband as a present. The future Prophet emancipated Zayd and adopted him as a son. After years of search, Zayd’s parents found him in Makka but Zayd preferred to remain with the Prophet.
Zayd was also a black man. The Messenger loved him very much. He gave Zaynab bint Jahsh, famous for her beauty and nobility, to him in marriage. He made Zayd the commander of the Muslim army in the baffle of Mu’ta, the first encounter of Muslims with the Romans. Zayd was martyred in this battle.
Usama was the son of Zayd. The Messenger loved him too very much. When Usama was a child, the Prophet would sit him on one knee, while Umama, the little daughter of one of the Companions, sat on his other knee. During his Caliphate, ‘Umar assigned for Usama a larger stipend than for his own son, ‘Abdullah, even though there was no difference in seniority or merit between them. ‘Umar explained to ‘Abdullah why he did so: ‘My son! God’s Messenger loved Usama more than you and his father more than your father.’
Before his death, the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, formed an army to dispatch against the Romans in which all of the leading Companions including Abu Bakr and ‘Umar also participated. The Messenger appointed Usama as a commander of that army, without considering that Usama was still a teenager, and said: ‘As his father had the necessary qualities to command an army, Usama too is qualified to be a commander.’
The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, fell ill before Usama’s army left Madina. When the Messenger died, Abu Bakr was chosen as the Caliph and he dispatched the army.