Explosion of Islam
Bilal bin Rabah
Andrew Marr’s History of the World – Word and Sword
A desert people arose whose beliefs would stand the test of time.
They’d achieved this by taking the merger between spirituality and politics that Rome and Christianity had started and pushing it much further.
Mecca, 620 A.D. according to Islamic tradition Bilal bin Rabah was an African slave from Ethiopia. He was a secret follower of the radical new faith called Islam.
Like Judaism and Christianity it believed in one God and many of the same prophets.
Bilal’s owner was Umayyah bin Khalaf a tribal chief.
Umayyah’s latest enemies were followers of a new preacher named Muhammad, a tough guy known to his disciples as The Prophet and his creed he called Islam which means ‘Submission to the will of God’ and like the Christians Mohammad preached equality in the eyes of God to all people, rich and poor, slave and free alike.
Quite rightly, Umayyah saw this as a challenge to his own tribal authority and now, one of his own slaves, Bilal was following Muhammad.
Umayyah’s men dragged the young slave into the desert and laid him out in the burning hot sand. He was pinned down and ordered to reject Mohammad’s revolutionary message. Like Perpetua in her prison Bilal refused to submit. He simply repeated “God is great”.
Violence couldn’t stop the passion of spiritual rebellion. It failed to in Rome and it would fail to in Arabia.
But news of Bilal’s suffering and faith soon spread and one of Muhammad’s companions bought his freedom. As Mohammad’s followers grew more defiant, the tribal chiefs drove them out of Mecca. The Muslims then fled to Medina and took Bilal with them.
Bilal helped to build a simple place for Muslims to come together and pray. The first mosque. And it said that Bilal’s was the very first voice to make that distinctive Muslim call to prayer – The Athen.
Bilal joined Mohammad’s armies as they won one victory after another across the Arabian Peninsula. The Muslims took spiritual struggle and military struggle and they bound them together. So, in the end, they almost seemed to be the same thing.
Muhammad’s armies made invasion a religious duty. With one language and one God Islam expanded far faster than Christianity or Buddhism except that Islam didn’t really expand, it exploded.
Within 120 years of Mohammad’s death his followers had converted and taking control of societies from Central Asia to Spain, an area even larger than the Roman Empire.
Some of the most creative and powerful civilisations in history would be built in the name of Islam. Today, one and a half billion people around the world obey the call to prayer, the tradition begun by Bilal.
In these thousand years the most densely populated parts of the planet were transformed by new beliefs and new religions and the shocking, swift impact of Islam really does provide the correct climax to this period. The power of the sword is strong, the power of faith is strong, put them both together and you’ve got the most powerful force on the planet.