Lessons From the Life of Bilal Ibn Rabah For Oppressed Black Communities (Part one)

(In part one, The Black Dawah Network looks at the life of Bilal Ibn Rabah and how we can look to his life to improve our community.) 

In the life of Bilal Ibn Rabah are important principles and lessons that can empower our community.  His life is a great example of how one man’s unwavering conviction in Allah’s oneness, known as Tawheed, can result in the oppressed being victorious over their oppressor. It is this unwavering belief in One God and submission to that One God that can also result in the masses of oppressed Black people being victorious over the political system of white supremacy.

In the Brazilian slave revolts, Bilal was looked upon as a source of inspiration.  The suspected mastermind, Licutan, was repeatedly asked his name. Each time, he said Bilal. His interrogators, frustrated, said they knew his name was Licutan. Yet, he continued to say Bilal.

Who was this man, Bilal, remembered centuries later by the enslaved Brazilians halfway around the world?  Bilal Ibn Rabah, was an enslaved man of Ethiopian heritage. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, showed an immense amount of concern and love for Bilal and other slaves such as Ammar ibn Yassir, and Suhayb ibn Sinan, who as slaves, were at the bottom of the social hierarchy in Mecca and considered social outcasts.  The Prophet, peace be upon him, as someone concerned with the plight of the downtrodden, often had Bilal ibn Rabah, Ammar ibn Yassir, Suhayb ibn Sinan, accompany him as he spoke to the royal pagan Meccan chiefs.

Displaying a pompous attitude, the Pagan Meccan Royals told the Prophet, pbuh, “Oh Muhammad! Are you serious sitting with these people?” The  Pagan Meccan chiefs saw themselves as too superior to meet with the Prophet(pbuh) while he was in the presence of slaves.

The Pagan Meccan chiefs agreed to meet the Prophet,pbuh, only on the condition that he removed Bilal, Ammar, and Suhayb from his presence.  They told him, “Sit with whom you will otherwise, but drive these people way when we come to see you. After we leave, you can resume keeping company with them if you wish.” Allah(swt) ordered the Prophet, pbuh, to refuse the conditions revealing in al-An’am 6:52:

“O Prophet!˺ Do not dismiss those poor believers who invoke their Lord morning and evening, seeking His pleasure. …Do do not dismiss them, or you will be one of the wrongdoers.”

To Allah (swt), superiority is not determined by wealth, power or affluence but by piety and righteousness. This is an essential component of the worldview of Islam.  This story is a powerful reminder to Muslims to never sell out the poor and oppressed with hopes of gaining favor with oppressors. It is also a reminder to the oppressed and downtrodden of their own self-worth and dignity.  With this as a worldview, there is no reason why any who proclaims themselves to be Muslims should ever have an inferiority complex.

Our Black brothers who grew up in an poor, drug infested community,  whose school merely served as a pipeline to prison, and who turned to Islam after a life of involvement in gangs should not have an inferiority complex to the white politicians and white city-planners, who grew up in affluent neighborhoods,  and who created the conditions of poverty and violence in their communities. 

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