A huge group descended upon that home and demanded Bilal be handed over, which his master did. The crowd bound him, and to set an example for others who might be tempted to follow the way of Islam, they began to torture him.

Bilal was tied and dragged through the streets of Mecca until he was bloody. He was then taken to the desert, where his limbs were tied to stakes set in the ground.

A man—Umayya ibn Khalaf—stomped on Bilal, screaming for him to verbally renounce Muhammad.

Bilal refused.

He whipped Bilal until the slave passed out, revived him, and whipped him again. He did this nearly until the point of death, torturing Bilal in various ways.

But Bilal still would not budge, shouting out “Allah is One,” whenever he had breath to spare. They exhausted themselves beating him, but they would have sooner gotten the rocks to renounce Muhammad than Bilal al-Habashi.

Finally, Umayya dragged Bilal to an area of sun-heated ground, tying him there and allowing his wounds to burn. Umayya pointed a mound of heavy, hot stones out to the crowd, and had them pile them upon Bilal, crushing him beneath their weight.

But still, Bilal called out, “One! Allah is one!” He would not break. It was the only cry they could draw from this slave. No matter what they did, Bilal found joy in Allah, and Allah was greater than any agony.

The crowd was astonished at his resilience. Some were outright impressed, and their perception of Islam came away changed forever.

When news of this reached Muhammad, he sent Abu Bakr, who, upon arrival, commented to Umayya on the resilience of Bilal, offering to buy him as a slave.

After some haggling, Umayya accepted Abu’s offer, thinking Bilal of no more use.

For the first time, Bilal was free.

For the next decade Bilal accompanied Muhammad on his military expeditions, spreading the knowledge of Islam and being given an important position as a commander of forces, finally putting his intelligence and skill to full use.

He also became renowned for his beautiful voice as he prayed aloud, and had the honor of becoming the first muezzin—one who calls Muslims to prayer from atop a mosque. The tradition of muezzins continues to this day.

When Muslim forces finally captured Mecca—the greatest enemy of Muhammad—Bilal had the honor of initiating what was the first call to prayer ever in Islam’s holiest city.

Bilal, once a slave, now found himself a general, the first to call Mecca into prayer, and one of the closest companions of the Prophet of Islam. He would remain loyal to Islam even after the death of Muhammad, right up until his own death in March of 640 AD, at age 57.

The tall, dark, half-Ethiopian man with the bushy hair and deep, resonant voice leaves a legacy that still greatly affects African Muslims to this day, who feel a special kinship with him, and his story remains one of the chief demonstrations that, in the eyes of Muhammad, all men are equal, regardless of race, nationality, or social status.