Bilal: A New Breed of Hero

This handsome computer animation (2015) from the United Arab Emirates dramatizes the life of Bilal ibn Rabah, a freed African slave who became the first muezzin (the town crier who signals the hour of Muslim prayer) in the early seventh century. Against a sweeping desert landscape, the soulful Bilal clashes with his master, a cruel pagan merchant who traffics in religious idols and fears the growing spiritual movement rumored to wed egalitarianism and monotheism. There are no explicit references to the prophet Muhammad or the Muslim faith, but even a viewer with only a rudimentary knowledge of early Islam should be able to follow the straightforward, action-oriented plot. The tone is grim, befitting a tale of oppression; a climactic battle brings relief if not closure (a coda explains that there’s more war ahead). Directed by Khurram H. Alavi and Ayman Jamal.