Hazrat Bilal (ra) had the honour of being the first muazzin [the one who calls the Azan]. Whether the Holy Prophet (sa) was on a journey or at home, Hazrat Bilal (ra) was the muazzin for the Holy Prophet (sa) throughout his life. He was the first person in Islam to call the Azan.

(Ali Ibn al-Athir, Usd al-Ghabah fi Ma‘rifat al-Sahabah, Vol. 1, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2008] 416)

Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Zaid narrates from his father who stated that the Holy Prophet (sa) thought about ways to call people to the prayer using a trumpet or a bell. Thus, the Holy Prophet (sa) ordered for this to be prepared and it was made accordingly (this is a narration of Bukhari).

The companions gave suggestions for a bell or a horn to be used. It was then that Hazrat Abdullah bin Zaid (ra) was shown a dream. He related:

“I saw a man clad in two green garments with a bell in his hand. I said to that man, ‘O servant of Allah! Will you sell me this bell?’ He asked, ‘What will you do with it?’ I replied, ‘I would call people to prayer with it. He then said, ‘Shall I teach you something better than this?’ I enquired what that was? He then called out the words of the Azan in full:

اللّٰہُ أَکْبَرُ اللّٰہُ أَکْبَرُ۔

أَشْہَدُ اَنْ لَّا اِلٰہَ اِلَّا اللّٰہُ۔

أَشْہَدُ اَنْ لَّا اِلٰہَ اِلَّا اللّٰہُ۔

أَشْہَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَّسُولُ اللّٰہِ۔

أَشْہَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَّسُولُ اللّٰہ۔

حَیَّ عَلَی الصَّلٰوۃِ۔ حَیَّ عَلَی الصَّلٰوۃِ۔

حَیَّ عَلَی الْفَلَاحِ۔ حَیَّ عَلَی الْفَلَاحِ۔

اللّٰہُ أَکْبَرُ اللّٰہُ أَکْبَرُ۔

لَا إِلٰہَ إِلَّا اللّٰہُ۔

[Allah is Greatest, Allah is Greatest. I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship Except Allah. I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship Except Allah. I bear witness that Muhammad(sa) is the Messenger of Allah. I bear witness that Muhammad (sa) is the Messenger of Allah. Come to Salat. Come to Salat. Come to Success. Come to Success. Allah is the Greatest. Allah is Greatest. There is none worthy of worship except Allah.]

The narrator states, “Hazrat Abdullah bin Zaid (ra) went to the Holy Prophet (sa) and related his dream to him. Hazrat Abdullah (ra) said, ‘O Messenger (sa) of Allah! I saw a person clad in two green garments with a bell in his hand.’ He then related the entire dream. The Holy Prophet (sa) said to the Companions, ‘Your brother has seen a dream.’ He then instructed Abdullah bin Zaid (ra) to go to the mosque with Bilal (ra) and to teach him these words and for Bilal (ra) to recite them in a loud voice because he had a louder voice as compared to him. Hazrat Abdullah bin Zaid (ra) narrates that he went with Bilal (ra) to the mosque and he would recite these words and Bilal (ra) would repeat them in a loud voice. When Hazrat Umar bin Khattab (ra) heard these words, he came out [of his home] and said, ‘O Messenger (sa) of Allah! By God, I have seen the exact same dream as he has.’”

(Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Azan, Bab bad‘ al-adhan, Hadith 706) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Azan, Bab Bad’ al-Azan, Hadith 604)

Explaining this, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad Sahib (ra) writes:

“Until now there was no arrangement for a call to Salat or Azan etc. The Companions would generally congregate in the mosque at the approximate time themselves. These state of affairs, however, were not satisfactory. Upon the construction of Masjid-e-Nabawi, the question as to how Muslims would be congregated at the appropriate time was felt even more. One Companion proposed the use of a bell, like the Christians. Someone proposed the use of a trumpet, like the Jews; and others made other suggestions. However, Hazrat Umar (ra) proposed that an individual be appointed to announce that it is time for Salat at the appointed time. The Holy Prophet (sa) approved this proposal, and appointed Hazrat Bilal (ra) to perform this duty. As such, after this, when the time for Salat would arrive, Hazrat Bilal (ra) would announce in a loud voice,

اَلصَّلٰوۃُ جَامِعَۃٌ

[Gather for Salat] and people would congregate for the Salat. As a matter of fact, the very same call would be made if it was necessary to congregate the Muslims in the mosque for a purpose other than the Salat as well. Sometime afterwards, the words of the current Azan were taught to a Companion named ‘Abdullah bin Zaid Ansari (ra), in a dream. He presented himself before the Holy Prophet (sa) and mentioned this dream saying, ‘I saw an individual in my dream call out such and such words as if calling the Azan.’ The Holy Prophet (sa) said, ‘This dream is from Allah,’ and instructed Abdullah (ra) to teach these words to Bilal (ra). A strange coincidence was that when Bilal (ra) called out the Azan in these words for the very first time, upon hearing them, Hazrat Umar(ra) made haste to the Holy Prophet (sa) and said, ‘O Messenger (sa) of Allah! Today, the words in which Bilal (ra) called out the Azan were exactly those which I also saw in my dream.’ In one narration it has also been related that when the Holy Prophet (sa) heard these words of the Azan, he said, ‘Revelation has already been sent down as such.’ Therefore, in this manner, the current method of Azan commenced.

“The method which commenced in this manner is so blessed and attractive that no other method can compare to it. In other words, the unity of God and the Prophethood of Muhammad (sa), the Messenger of Allah, is proclaimed five times daily from every mosque, in every village, of every city in the Islamic world. A summary of Islamic teachings is conveyed to the people in extremely beautiful and comprehensive words.”

(Sirat Khatamun-Nabiyyin, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra), pp. 271-272)

Musa bin Muhammad narrates on the authority of his father that after Hazrat Bilal (ra) used to call the Azan, he would go to inform the Holy Prophet (sa). Standing beside his door, Hazrat Bilal (ra) would recite:

حَیَّ عَلَى الصَّلٰوۃِ۔ حَیَّ عَلَى الْفَلَاحِ۔ اَلصَّلٰوۃُ یَا رَسُولَ اللّٰہِ

Meaning, “Come to Prayer, Come to Success. Come for Salat, O Messenger (sa) of Allah.” Upon seeing the Holy Prophet (sa) approaching for prayer, Hazrat Bilal would call the iqamah.

(Ibn Sa‘d, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2017] 176-177)

This aspect of this narration is not clear. The iqamah is usually recited when the imam has taken his position [for prayer] at the mihrab. Either this narration has not been recorded correctly or perhaps it has not been translated accurately, as the correct practice is that the iqamah should be called when the Imam stands in the mihrab for prayer.

In Sunan Ibn Majah, Hazrat Bilal (ra) has narrated an account in which it is stated that he once went to call the Holy Prophet (sa) for prayer. He was informed that he was asleep. Hazrat Bilal (ra) then said:

اَلصَّلٰوۃُ خَیْرٌ مِّنَ النَّوْمِ۔ اَلصَّلٰوۃُ خَیْرٌ مِّنَ النَّوْمِ

[Salat is better than sleep; Salat is better than sleep]

These words were then incorporated in the Azan for the Fajr prayer and this became the established practice.

(Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Adhan, Bab al-Sunnah fi al-Adhan, Hadith 716)

In another narration it is stated that the Holy Prophet (sa) said, “O Bilal! How majestic are these words! Include them in the Azan for the Fajr prayer.”

(Imam al-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, Bilal bin Rabah, Vol. 1, Hadith 1081 [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, Beirut, 2002] 355)

In the time of the Holy Prophet (sa), there were three muazzins: Hazrat Bilal (ra), Abu Mahzura (ra) and Amr bin Umme Maktoom (ra).

(Ibn Sa‘d, Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 3, Bilal bin Rabah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2017] 177)

Whilst staying in Ilya, it was the time for prayer and people insisted Hazrat Umar (ra) to instruct Hazrat Bilal (ra) to call the azan. Hazrat Bilal (ra) stated that he had vowed to never call the azan again after the demise of the Holy Prophet (sa), but nevertheless he would fulfil the instruction of Hazrat Umar (ra). Subsequently, upon the instruction of Hazrat Umar (ra), when Hazrat Bilal (ra) called the azan, all of the companions who were present were reminded of the era of the Holy Prophet (sa). They became so emotional that they began to profusely weep. Hazrat Umar (ra) also became so emotional that he started to hiccup and the impact of this incident on him remained for a long time.

Hazrat Umar (ra) also saw a dream about the initiation of the azan [Call to prayer]. Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud (ra) states:

“The revelation of Allah the Almighty descended upon the companions. In the time of the Holy Prophet (sa), Hazrat Abdullah bin Zaid (ra), who was a companion, was taught the azan by Allah the Almighty through a revelation. And the Holy Prophet (sa) established the practice of azan amongst the Muslims based on the revelation vouchsafed to him. Afterwards, a Quranic revelation also testified to this. Hazrat Umar (ra) says that he too was taught the very same azan but remained silent for 20 days because another person had already mentioned it to the Holy Prophet (sa). In another narration, Hazrat Umar (ra) stated that an angel taught him the azan while he was partially asleep. This is what Hazrat Umar (ra) reports. He was still partially awake at the time.”

(Mas‘alah-e-Wahi wa Nubuwat ke Muta‘alliq Islami Nazriyah, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 23, p. 283)

The following narration from Sunan al-Tirmidhi is one that I have mentioned before as well, but I will mention it once again. The concluding words in the narration tell us that according to the Holy Prophet (sa), the dream of Hazrat Umar (ra) held great importance. Muhammad bin Abdillah bin Zaid narrates from his father, who said, “I came to the Holy Prophet (sa) in the morning and recounted my dream to him. The Holy Prophet (sa) said that indeed, this revelation was true. He instructed that I go and relay what was revealed to me to Hazrat Bilal (ra) because he possessed a louder and longer tone and he should proclaim these words aloud.”

Hazrat Abdullah (ra) bin Zaid continues:

“When Hazrat Umar (ra) heard the azan of Hazrat Bilal (ra) at the time of prayer, he came to the Holy Prophet (sa) while dragging his mantle, and he said, ‘O Messenger (sa) of Allah, I swear by Him Who has sent you with the truth, surely, I also saw [in a dream] what he has just recited.’”

The narrator reports that upon this, the Holy Prophet (sa) said, “All praise is due to Allah. This is an even stronger statement.” In other words, this meant that the matter was further affirmed.

(Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Salah, Bab ma Ja‘a fi Bad’ al-Adhan, Hadith 189)