Breaking the Chains – the Shahaada of Bilal ibn Rabah

Tauhid, the Oneness of the Creator, is undoubtedly the underpinning of Islam. Expressed in a simple but profound statement known as the Shahada, or Testimony of Faith, its essence is emancipation from servitude to men to the worship of God alone.

The testimony begins with a negation of all false gods and affirms that the only One worthy of worship is Allah, Creator and Sustainer. This declaration is liberating; it liberates one from the chains of psychological and cultural baggage and establishes a new paradigm for those who profess it with deep conviction. It also shatters the illusion of power that some hold over others and dispels the myth that lesser men may be beholden to their “benefactors” for the rest of their lives.

Bilal, the Abyssinian Slave

The story of Bilal is the perfect example of this.

This testimony of faith, which was an inner revolution for Bilal, made him appreciate that his real Master were not the men who held sway over him. They were only mortals, albeit despicable ones. His real Master is Allah who confers true dignity to the human soul and infuses in it a faith that also embellishes it with a radiance that cannot be extinguished.

Bilal Ibn Rabah is a powerful symbol of such a liberating experience. A slave of Abyssinian origin, he was tied to Umayya ibn Khalaf, a Makkan Chieftain, in slavery. His strength and loyalty were great assets to Umayya. That changed the day when his heart received the message of Islam. Now a Muslim, the light of Tauhid emboldened him to refuse servitude to any other than Allah. He was able to internalize the values of patience, restraint, and perseverance, defining qualities for Muslims, under the most horrific circumstances.  

Bilal was liberated from shirk even before Abu Bakr bought him his freedom, for when Umayya came to know of his Islam, and subsequently tortured him to recant his faith, his gaze was firmly fixed to the One above, and his only pronouncement was “Ahad, Ahad” – a call that resonates until today and brings courage to its upholders.

It is this specific aspect of the Shahada, the emancipation from bondage that is relevant to us today. The bondage today is not the one that Bilal experienced; nor is it the one that the idolators of Makkah were subjected to in the form of idols made of stone or wood.

In our times, this bondage has become more sophisticated and more difficult to identify, let alone defeat. But with faith and clarity of purpose, we can overcome it by internalizing the moral convictions and faith of Bilal ibn Rabah.

Upon becoming convinced of the truth of the Shahada, Bilal ibn Rabah unequivocally rejected all the false gods that constituted the order of the day. For this, he paid a heavy price. He was tortured brutally and incessantly. His faith, however, could not be shaken. On the contrary, it gave him courage and fortitude. Today, like the Meccans in the time of Bilal, we too succumb to false gods, whether they are our own unrestrained carnal pleasures, or some misguided concept of divinity; or whether they are in the realm of “hawaa” (desires), or in the time-consuming rush of modernity. Yes, we give our body and souls to these demi-gods, sometimes unwittingly.

Bask in the Glory of His Magnificence

Bilal has shown us that faith supersedes everything. It is what truly frees man from all forms of bondage and degradation. Faith opens the window to our true purpose in this life. It dictates how we behave and conduct ourselves. It teaches us that we can neither accept bondage by another human being nor can we enslave another human being. If, God forbid we are forced into some form of bondage as some people under occupation are, we must seek our liberation based on our absolute faith in Allah, who listens to the cry of the oppressed.

We are only beholden to the will of our Lord based on this faith and the truth of Tauhid. We can only achieve this true liberation when our purpose is underpinned by the declaration of, and firm adherence to, the Shahadah. To bear witness to the Oneness of Allah, even under the most severe persecution, is to bask in the glory of His magnificence.

Bearing witness to, and acting on this truth may come at a cost. In the case of Bilal, it was the brutal reaction of a man with a beastly nature, who never flinched at the dehumanizing torture he subjected Bilal to. Yet, Bilal matched this determination to punish him, with the courage of uttering “Ahad, Ahad” under the scorching Makkan sun. Such courage was rewarded with the sweetness that Tauhid brings – the freedom of the soul to seek its Maker, unencumbered by the false sense of power and grandiosity.

Let the Shahada emancipate us, one slave at a time.

Br. Farhad Khadim

Farhad Khadim is a Guyanese – Canadian and an Information Management Professional with the City of Toronto. He is one of the founders of Masjid Toronto and a Founding Director of the Islamic Institute of Toronto. He the author of a poetry anthology “Whispers of Faith” and a Children’s Picture Book “Oh, The Things I See!” Both are available on Amazon. He lives in Toronto.

Farhad Khadim

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