The first Muslim to give the athan was Bilal ibn Rabah.
His story is remarkable from beginning to end. The son of a kidnapped Abysinnian princess and a Black Arab, he was enslaved and worked for Abdullah ibn Jadan.
When the Prophet ﷺ first started preaching his message, new Muslims of poor backgrounds were heavily persecuted. They were not part of wealthy families that would be able to protect them. This was the case for Bilal Radi Allahu Anhu (RA) who was also a slave. When Bilal (RA) declared his Shahadah, he was tortured by Abdullah ibn Jadan, who then gave him to Ummayah bin Khalaf. Ummayah only increased this horrific torture. The torturers would strip Bilal and make him lie on hot desert sand for hours. They would whip him and place heavy burning stones on top of his bare body.
They wanted Bilal (RA) to renounce Islam and insult the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ told those being tortured that they were allowed to say with their mouths what is not in their hearts, in order to stop the beatings and whippings. But Bilal (RA) refused and could not even think about uttering anything against Islam and the Prophet ﷺ.
Regardless of how much and how long Bilal (RA) was tormented, all he would say is “Ahadun, Ahad” which means “He is One, He is One.”
One day while Bilal (RA) was being subjected to another day of painful torture, Abu Bakr (RA) passed by. Horrified by the awful condition he was in, Abu Bakr (RA) offered to buy Bilal (RA) from Ummayah ibn Khalaf. Abu Bakr (RA) would succeed, buying him for 9 ounces of gold, thereby releasing him and freeing him from this torture.
To add insult to the last injury he inflicted on Bilal (RA), Ummayah bin Khalaf said to Abu Bakr (RA) that even if he offered him one ounce, he would give him away, insinuating that he was worthless.
Abu Bakr (RA) responded, “Wallahi, even if you asked me for a hundred ounces, I would pay it.”
Abu Bakr (RA) would then free Bilal (RA) from both the torture and from slavery.
At the time when the Athan was instructed, Bilal (RA) was selected by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to be the first to call it. With a beautiful, clear and sweet voice, Bilal (RA) became the Muadhin (the person who issues the call to prayer) of the Prophet ﷺ. He climbed a nearby rooftop and called out the Athan for the first time.
As Sheikh Omar Suleiman said, Bilal (RA) was chosen because of his iman (conviction) and his certainty in it. The steadfast conviction of Bilal (RA) to say La Ilaha Illallah under the burning rocks was why he was given the honor of saying the athan from the rooftops as a Muadhin.
Bilal’s (RA) role as a muadhin had so much value that the Prophet ﷺ would say that the most easily noticed people on the Day of Judgement will be the Muadhins, the callers of salah. Muadhins get rewarded for every person who comes to the prayer.
Bilal (RA) was one of the sahabah who were promised Jannah in this life. When the Prophet ﷺ came back from Isra al-Miraj, he told Bilal (RA). “Oh Bilal, I heard your footsteps in paradise.”
When people asked why Bilal (RA) was given this ultimate prize, it was found that one of the many reasons was that whenever he made wudu (abulation) he would not let that wudu break before having read some prayer.
When Makkah was reclaimed by the Muslims, Bilal (RA) was given another honor–he was chosen to give athan from the roof of the Kabah. All of the non-Muslims and even some of the Muslims were in shock. Comments ranged from “A black slave giving the Athan?” and “Could the Prophet ﷺ not find someone else?” Racism was present then and unfortunately is still alive in our communities today.
Learn more about Bilal (RA) here.
Bilal (RA) being chosen as a Muadhin shows what Islam has taught us. The only thing relevant to Allah is our Iman and our Tawakul. We should measure people not by their race or class, but by their piety and love of God.
Unless we live in a Muslim country or a country that has granted permission for public athans, we most likely do not have the pleasure of hearing the Athan in our homes. Having an Athan clock in homes and offices is a good way to ensure that the athan times are announced regularly; allowing the opportunity to connect to our Lord. And for this reason and many others, the Athan Frame (The Next Generation Athan Clock) is a must-have for any Muslim household.