Bilal, the Ethiopian

This post is about something historic, something recent, something African, something Arab…and all of it relevant. With the recent events in Syria, it’s good to begin this series of articles with a reminder about a blessed companion of the Prophet (saws) who is buried in Damascus, and who embodies Culturally Speaking’s ethos.

Bilal ibn Rabah Al-Habashi, (the Ethiopian) is well-known as the African Muslim who called the early Muslims to prayer. But he was much more than that. In addition to lending his magnificent voice to the adhan and being a humble believer who was promised paradise, he was, in today’s terms, the Prophet’s personal administrative assistant. He was in charge of the Prophet’s schedule and finances, as well as his trusted companion on the battlefield.

Bilal was a slave in Mecca, the “property” of a man named Umayyah bin Khalaf. Bilal lived a difficult life during his pre-Islamic days because Bin Khalif was not a kind man by any means, although he kept Bilal strong and treated him as valuable property. When Bilal heard the message of Islam, he marveled at, among other things, its doctrines of human equality – slaves being treated kindly, fed well and not overworked. He saw his freedom in Islam and was among the first to become Muslim. Of course his master didn’t react kindly to his conversion.

As both punishment and incentive to renounce Islam, Bin Khalif frequently placed Bilal on the hot sand under the harsh desert sun with a bare chest and a boulder placed on his ribcage. Bin Khalif mocked him and asked, “Why doesn’t your God come and save you?” Bilal said nothing but “Ahad, Ahad,” God is one, God is one. This infuriated Bin Khalif not only because he was a polytheist, but because the implied belief in human dignity for all went against his treasured self-superiority.

The more Bilal insisted that God was one, the more torment was inflicted upon him, until one day Abu Bakr approached his master during one of these sessions and offered to buy him. Bin Khalaf knew by this point that there was no chance Bilal would renounce Islam, and the price that Abu Bakr offered was twice what a slave would normally bring. So he sold Bilal to Abu Bakr, who immediately freed him.

When the adhan was adopted as the call to prayer, Bilal’s habit was to stand on a rooftop every morning and call, “O Allah, I praise you and I ask your help for Qur’aish, that they may accept your religion.” Then he made the call to prayer. When the time for prayers arrived during the day, Rasoolullah (saws) would say, “Bilal, relieve us from it,” meaning “Bilal, relieve us from these worldly concerns by calling us to the tranquility of prayer.”

Tomb of Bilal in Damascus, Syria - Photo courtesy of ""

When the Prophet died, Bilal was too grief-stricken to stay in Medinah. He ceased to make the adhan and traveled instead. In this way he came to be buried in Damascus.

Now, some 1400 years later, people in Syria and all over the world are standing up in the face of violence and oppression and demanding the human dignity bestowed upon them by Allah in the Qur’an – the same universal rights that inspired Bilal to stand up to Bin Khalaf in the middle of the Arabian desert so many years ago.

At Culturally Speaking our goal is to help create a world where everyone’s humanity is esteemed, everyone’s culture celebrated, everyone’s religion respected and everyone’s contribution valued. Just as Islam teaches.


In Light of Recent Congressional Hearings


A Coalition of Kansas City area Muslims held a press conference on Wednesday March 16, 2011. Muslims, along with other members of the Kansas City faith community, have found Peter King’s recent Congressional Hearings on the Radicalization of Muslims in America disturbing and divisive. Dr. Robert Hill lent his support by hosting the the event at Community Christian Church, 4601 Main Street in Kansas City, where he is pastor. Following is the statement read at the press conference:

From Left to Right Top Row: Sheik Aasim Baheyadeen, Rev. Sam Mann Regional Chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Front Row: Dr. Robert Lee Hill, Pastor of Community Christian Church, Imam Yahya Furqan Director of Religious Affairs for Culturally Speaking, Imam Bilal Muhammed, Rabbi Alan L. Cohen, Director of Inter-religious Affairs, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, and Dr. Vern Barnet of CRES. Photo courtesy of Br. Samuel Shareef.

With Allah’s help and assistance we greet you in Peace, thank you for your presence.

Thanks to the honorable faith leaders who have joined us and special thanks to Reverend Robert Lee Hill and the Community Christian Church Family for hosting this Press Conference.

Leaders in the Muslim Community feel it our obligation to protect our Muslim public living in this Great Land, the land we love and proudly call home from living under a cloud of suspicion. While we share an agreement with Congressman King that “ The responsibility of this committee is to protect America from a terrorist attack”, we register strong objection to the singling out of The Islamic American Community for and in these hearings. Muslims Americans live, work and attend schools in every part of America. Often but not always cultural dress easily identifies us as Muslims and perhaps so does an accent or maybe a certain demeanor. The singling out of Muslims as these Hearings in fact do, cast an undue cloud of suspicion over an entire religion. This singling out of Muslims in particular puts the ninety-nine percent of the law abiding Muslim American population in a position to live as a suspect group. We have children and grandchildren who do not even know what a terrorist is, they only want to experience the life and security that every child wants in every American home. The singling out of Muslims hurts our sense of shared freedom and shades our hopes for the treasured and promised pursuit of happiness protected by our Nation.

Our message to people who would try and promote radicalization among our youth is simple. To you we say, your position and thinking is weak so you seek to use mere children for front line fodder in your cause. Our family of culturally mixed American Muslims know that you lack a display of the fiber of true men. You show no indication of the high moral and ethical principles of our sacred text The Qur’an.


To our neighbors, work mates and colleagues we want to get to know you, to work with you and celebrate our differences. We want you to know the core of who we are not suspect us or fear our religion, not to think of us as radical but rather defenders of fairness and human decency.

God’s peace be with you and Thank you.

Press conference comments of Imam Bilal Muhammed – March 16, 2011

Yusuf El-Sherif, Samuel Shareef, Ahmed El-Sherif, Imam Tadar Wazir, Imam Bilal, Imam Furqan. Photo courtesy of CRES. "I think the photo is interesting because the background shows the Country Club Plaza small scale version of the minaret that once was a part of the mosque in Seville, Spain. It was constructed shortly after the birth not far from Seville of Ibn Arabi, one of my favorite Muslim mystics, and I like to think he knew it before he left Andalusia." Vern Barnet

Dr. Vern Barnet with Muslim friends

5 Muslim Authors at the Plaza Library – Kansas City

Five Muslim authors, whose works represent the wide diversity of interests in the Muslim community,  met readers during this first-of-its-kind book signing event .

Come meet the authors of the following books:

Islam In The Heartland Of America by Imam Omar Hazim

The Hon. Elijah Muhammad: The Man Behind the Men by Imam Michael Saahir

Sophia’s Journal by Najiyah Diana Helwani

500 5-Minute Writing Exercises by Nadiyah Abdul-Khaliq