HADZRAT BILAL IBN RAHAB, a tall, gaunt, bushy-haired black Ethiopian slave, was the first high priest and treasurer of the Mohammedan empire. After Mohammed himself, that great religion

which today numbers upwards of 300,000,000 souls, may be said to have begun with Bilal. He was said to be the Prophet's first convert.

Mohammed was then only a camel-driver but in his soul flamed a great vision. His people, the Koreish, worshipped idols, and he yearned to teach them belief in the One God. But when he talked only the poor folk and the slaves would listen. From among these came his first converts.

The masters, alarmed at the spread of the new religion, began to suppress it by force. The converts were horribly tortured.

Sir William Muir says:

They were seized and imprisoned or they were exposed to the scorching gravel of the valley, to the intense glare of the midday sun. The torment was increased by intolerable thirst until the wretched sufferers hardly knew what was said. If under the torture they reviled Mohamet and acknowledged the idols of Mecca, they were refreshed With draughts of water and taken to their homes. Bilal alone escaped the shame of recantation. He would not yield. In the depths of his anguish the persecutors could force from him but one cry: "Abad! Abad!" (One, only one God).

Persecution of this kind later forced Mohammed to take up the sword, and he ended by becoming one of the world's great conquerors.

Mohammed furnished the executive ability and generalship for the new faith while Bilal provided much of the inspiration. Prayer was its great strength and Bilal could exhort more fervently than anyone else. Whenever he prayed, the crowds sobbed aloud. After listening to him the soldiers of Mohammed, whipped to frenzy, were ready to hurl themselves against any foe.

Bilal also helped Mohammed to create his picture of paradise, which became far more alluring than the Christian one, of which it was an elaboration. Not only were there milk and honey, but also sumptuous palaces of pure gold, with great banquet tables to which thousands of attendants bore the choicest food on golden plates. Each had 300 dishes put before him at once, and he could eat of all of them without becoming sated or being subject to the usual demands of nature.

Paradise also contained Taba, the wonderful Tree of Life, so vast that the swiftest horse would take 150 years to cross its shade. The boughs of this wonderful tree were laden with every kind of good thing to eat, and they bent down toward one at the slightest wish.

But above all they were the houris, or black-eyed daughters paradise. They had beautiful, well-rounded bodies, fresh eternal youth and ever-renewed virginity. Seventy-two of beautiful creatures were given to every believer, who himself sessed eternal youth and vigor.

If a believer died in battle he went straight into the midst of this. If he did not die there was the prospect of the spoils of battle No matter what happened, the believer felt that he could lose.

Each morning at six Bilal would call the faithful to with the words: "Great is the Lord! Great is the Lord! I witness that there is no God but the Lord! I bear witness Mohammed is the Prophet of God! Come unto prayer! Come salvation! God is great! God is great! There is no God but Lord! Prayer is better than sleep! Prayer is better than sleep?" This is the Azan, or Call to Prayer, and to this day it is the most impressive of Moslem rites.

After waking Mohammed each morning with the words: "To prayer, O Apostle of God!" Bilal would lead the followers in prayer. He continued to do this even after Mohammed had become the foremost figure in the world. The two were inseparable. In addition to being the high priest and treasurer, Bilal received and entertained the diplomats and the high guests.

Bilal held prayer no matter what was about to happen. At the battle of Bedr, while the enemy was advancing and all seemed lost, he made the soldiers kneel and pray. Inspired by his impassioned zeal, they swept upon the foe, turning what seemed certain defeat into victory.

Bilal had sworn revenge on his former master, Omeyya, who had tortured him so cruelly. After the battle of Bedr, Omeyya, wishing to save his life and that of his son, surrendered to Rhaman, who, on learning of the prisoner's rank was anxious to take him to Mohammed. But Bilal, spying his old enemy and knowing Mohammed's merciful disposition, shouted to the soldiers, "Slay him! Slay him! That man is the chief of the unbelievers! If he lives I am lost! Kill him! Kill him!" And Omeyya and his son were killed.

At another time, after a great victory over the Jews, Mohammed sent Bilal to fetch the beautiful Sara (fiancée of the slain Jewish general), whom Mohammed intended taking as a wife. Bilal, in his fierce dislike of the foe, purposely led her across the battlefield with its heaps of slain and showed her the frightfully mutilated body of her lover. When the bereaved girl reached Mohammed she was in such a state of hysteria that Mohammed was about to send her away, when Bilal boasted of what he had done. Mohammed kept the girl after rebuking Bilal for his excess of zeal.

Mohammed thought so much of Bilal's loyalty that he granted him precedence in heaven. "What shoes were those you wore last night?" he once asked Bilal. "Verily, as I journeyed in paradise and was mounting the stairs of God I heard your footsteps before me though I could not see them."

When he neared death, Mohammed named Bilal as his successor, but Bilal yielded in favor of the great general, Abu Bekr. The latter continued Bilal in power and so did Omar the Great, Abu Bekr's successor.

After the capture of Jerusalem, Bilal rode through the streets on the right of Omar. Entering the Temple there, he threw out the Christian images and prepared it for the worship of Islam.

His power lasted until his death. On one occasion when Khobab, another devoted follower of Mohammed, called on Omar and showed his wounds and told of the battle in which he had fought, Omar rose from the throne, seated Khobab thereon, and said, "There is but one man in all the empire more worthy of the honor than you, Khobab, and that is Bilal." At another time he called Bilal "the third part of Islam."

Bilal was insulted because of his color at least once, and that was by Prince Constantine, Christian general and head of the Syrian army. Amru, the Mohammedan general, was about to capture Syria and a Christian priest was sent to ask for terms. Bilal was sent back by Amru with the priest to arrange the surrender, but the priest, knowing that Prince Constantine would object to Bilal, hesitated to take him. His fears were justified, for when the Christian prince saw Bilal, he haughtily said, "I will have nothing to do with this black slave!" Constantine paid dearly for this insult, for Bilal imposed drastic terms, which met Amru's full approval.

Bilal lived to a ripe old age and amassed an immense fortune. He advanced his family and for his slave brother he secured rare privilege of marrying a freeborn Arab wife.

Lafcadio Hearn pictures Bilal's last days thus:

Bilal, the black Abyssinian, whose voice was the mightiest sweetest in Islam. In those first days Bilal was persecuted as the of the persecuted Prophet of God. And in the "Gulistan" it is told he suffered. But after our Lord had departed into the chamber Allah and the tawny horsemen of the desert had ridden from even to the gates of India, conquering and to conquer, and the crescent of Islam, slender as a sword, had waxed into a vast moon glory that filled the world, Bilal still lived with a wonderful health years given unto the people of his race. But he sang only for Caliph. And the Caliph was Omar.

So one day it came to pass that the people of Damascus whither Omar had travelled on a visit begged the Caliph saying: 'O Commander of the Faithful, we pray thee that thou ask Bilal to sing the call to prayer for us even as it was taught him by our Lord Mohammed."

Now Bilal was nearly a century old, but his voice was deep and sweet as ever. And they aided him to ascend the minaret. Then into the midst of the great silence burst once more the mighty African voice of Bilal--singing the Adzan as it has still been sung for more than 1200 years from all the minarets of Islam.... And Omar wept and all the people with him.

Bilal was buried at Damascus, where his tomb was one of the principal sights for centuries.

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