In the mid 1970s I had the privilege of meeting the Irish poet H. A. L. Craig who lived in Rome and who, with the late Mustapha Akkad, the producer and director of the film Mohammad, Messenger of God, was also the scriptwriter of the film.
Craig, during the course of his research, was encouraged by Akkad to write a book about Bilal which Quartet first published in1977.
Here is a note on Bilal which Craig wrote as an Introduction to his book.
Bilal is remembered for the love people felt for him. He inhabits the heart. But, by the same token, Bilal was so loved and so present in people’s affections that few felt the need to write down much about his life. It was to them sufficient to say that he was there, always beside the Prophet Mohammad, and loved by him. In the few paintings of this historic moment, usually backward glances in manuscript decorations, Bilal is always easy to recognise. Bilal was black.
The few facts known about Bilal can be told quickly. He was born in Mecca, the son of an Abyssinian slave called Rabah; in a city of idol-worship, he was tortured for his belief in one God; he was bought and freed from slavery by Mohammad’s close friend, Abbu Bakr; he was made the first muezzin, the caller to prayer in Islam; he had the responsibility for the food supply of the first, small armies of Islam; he was so close to the Prophet that he had the duty of waking him in the morning. After Mohammad’s death, Bilal’s legs, in his grief, failed him. He could not climb up the steps to make the call to prayer again. He died in Syria, probably in 644, twelve years after Mohammad’s death.
Not much to base a life upon – although, from the day of Bilal’s conversion, every event in Mohammad’s life was an event in the life of Bilal. Moreover, the two pillars of his memory, the love he had from all who knew him and his nearness to the Prophet, are enough for a writer who shares the first and is awed by the second. The Black Muslims in America have renamed themselves the Bilali. Bilal is also a patron saint, to use a Christian description, of Moslem Africa. Mohammad (peace be unto him) called Bilal ‘a man of Paradise’.
With the current misinterpretation of Islam’s message, Bilal is a book of peace and fraternity that everyone should read. The world will be a much safer place as a result.
Order your copy now and spread the good word. For peace and goodwill has never been so threatened throughout the globe.