OjairiIn 1846, a boy was born under the name of Musaed Abdullah Al-Azmi in Kuwait, where he grew up and developed great passion for knowledge and science. Having no other alternatives for breadwinning at that time but diving for pearls, Musaed took up that profession, knowing that Kuwaiti divers travelled to seabeds in Ceylon, which was then known as Serendib and is now known as Sri Lanka. But on arriving in Sri Lanka, he learnt that the British company hiring divers to dive for pearls had postponed the project for three years to allow pearl oysters to breed and let the sea ‘rest’ for a while.

He was shocked by the news because he neither spoke the language to communicate with people nor had enough money to sustain himself. Accordingly, he had to work as a porter at the port. Meanwhile, a large ship docked at Ceylon port and the captain announced hiring some hands to work onboard. Musaed applied and worked on that ship that sailed to Aden, then northwards through the Bab Al-Mandab Strait into the Red Sea until it reached the Suez Canal, where sailors had to wait for three days until the ship was allowed to sail through.

“This is the best chance for anyone wishing to see Egypt”, they were told and all sailors went ashore including Musaed, who went to Cairo and joined Al-Azhar university for seven years before he graduated with a habilitation degree (al-alamiyya) in religious sciences, jurisprudence (fiqh) and Arabic grammar.

Now a cleric, Azmi asked one of his Azhar teachers if there was chance for him to learn a profession in Egypt so that he could use it when he went back to Kuwait. The professor told him that some Belgian doctors had arrived from Europe to vaccinate the Egyptians against chickenpox. So Musaed went to those medics and learnt the profession, and thus became the first Kuwaiti graduate and vaccinator against chickenpox in 1881.

Azmi later went to perform hajj with Egyptian pilgrims, and in Makkah met some Kuwaiti pilgrims with whom he returned to Kuwait, where people were very happy and proud of him. As the first graduate and specialized vaccinator, he started vaccinating people against the epidemic. He used to import food from India or Bahrain and, sometime, make it himself.

However, an unexpected development happened when he said something that was traditionally unacceptable at those times. He asked people to teach their daughters to read and write, which angered people who deemed this as against both tradition and morals. Accordingly, Sheikh Musaed Al-Azmi had to leave for Bahrain, where he settled down, bought some palm trees and lived until he passed away in 1943.

In my opinion, Sheikh Musaed Al-Azmi was ahead of his time and thus Kuwait did not benefit from his Azhar degree, nor from being the first Kuwaiti graduate and vaccinator. May Almighty rest his soul in peace! – Translated by Kuwait Times from Al-Anbaa

By Dr Saleh Al-Ojairi