Dr Jack Shabi, father of modern Iraqi psychiatry

Jews in Iraq contributed beyond their numbers to modernity in the 20th century. Together with the Christian minority, Jews filled a shortage of doctors. Later, quotas were introduced to limit their admittance to medical colleges.

As we heard from academic researcher Sarah Farhan at the Jews of Iraq conference: engagement with modernities on 16 – 18 September 2019, Jews comprised 40 percent of Iraqi doctors in the first half of the 20th century.

 One of the most eminent  was Dr Jack Aboudi Shabi(1908-1980), an  Iraqi doctor specialized in nervous and mental diseases (neurology).

Dr Shabi practised in his first floor surgery in Baghdad. So identified with the treatment of mental  illness was Dr Shabi that the expression ‘send him to the first floor’ became a common expression for ‘the man (or woman) is crazy’.   

Born in Basra in a Jewish family, Dr Shabi was one of the first students to study at the Iraqi Royal Medical College (founded in 1927). His work has forever changed psychiatry in the country. He studied in Baghdad and London and subsequently with the famous Professor Hans Hoff of Vienna who lived in Baghdad during the Second World War. Dr. Shabi was for a time director of the Baghdad Mental Hospital and professor at the Royal College of Medicine. He left Baghdad in 1971 for London where he served as doctor in the Prisons Department.

His sister, Dr J Shabi, was also a doctor.

Portrait of Dr Jack Aboudi Shabi, father of modern Iraqi Psychiatry.

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