Abdul Alhazred is a fictional character created by American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. He is the so-called "Mad Arab" credited with authoring the imaginary book Kitab al-Azif (the Necronomicon), and as such an integral part of Cthulhu Mythos lore.
The name Abdul Alhazred is a pseudonym that Lovecraft created in his youth, which he took on after reading 1001 Arabian Nights at the age of about five years. The name was invented either by Lovecraft, or by Albert Baker, the Phillips' family lawyer. Abdul is a common Arabic name component (but never a name by itself; additionally the ending -ul and the beginning Al- are redundant), but Alhazred may allude to Hazard, a pun on the book's destructive and dangerous nature, or a reference to Lovecraft's ancestors by that name. It might also have been a pun on "all-has-read", since Lovecraft was an avid reader in youth.
Another possibility, raised in an essay by the Swedish fantasy writer and editor, Rickard Berghorn, is that the name Alhazred was influenced by references to two historical authors whose names were Latinized as Alhazen: Alhazen ben Josef, who translated Ptolemy into Arabic; and Abu 'Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham, who wrote about optics, mathematics and physics. Ibn al-Haytham is said to have pretended to be mad to escape the wrath of a ruler.
Abdul Alhazred is not a real Arabic name, and seems to contain the Arabic definite article morpheme al- twice in a row (anomalous in terms of Arabic grammar). The more proper Arabic form might be Abd-al-Hazred or Abdul Hazred. In Arabic translations, his name has appeared as Abdullah Alhared (عبدالله الحظرد): Arabic ḥaẓraحظر = "he fenced in", "he prohibited". Hazred could come from the Persian or Arabic word "Hazrat" meaning Great Lord with a twist that makes it sound like "red" and "hazard" both indicative of danger. However Abdul is a common Arabic prefix meaning "Servant of the" and "Al" is Arabic for "the", and if "hazra" means "he prohibited", "he fenced in" or "Great Lord", then the name would mean "Servant of the Prohibited", "Servant of the Fenced in", or "Servant of the Great Lord" which would make sense considering his role, even if it is not a proper Arabic name.
Similarly, an article (written from an in-universe perspective) in the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game speculates that it may be a corruption of Abd Al-Azrad, which it claims translates to The Worshipper of the Great Devourer.
The phrase "mad Arab", sometimes with both words capitalized in Lovecraft's stories, is used so commonly before Alhazred's name that it almost constitutes a title. A reference to the "Mad Arab" in Cthulhu Mythos fiction is invariably a synonym for Abdul Alhazred. However due to political correctness later writers sometimes preface Alhazred with words such as "monk" (such as in the Chick parody tract "Who will be Eaten First?" by Howard Hallis) or "scholar" replacing Arab to avoid any possible racist overtones.
H. P. Lovecraft
History of the Necronomicon According to Lovecraft's "History of the Necronomicon" (written 1927, first published 1938), Alhazred was:
- a mad poet of Sanaá, in Yemen, who is said to have flourished during the period of the Ommiade caliphs, circa 700 A.D. He visited the ruins of Babylon and the subterranean secret of Memphis, Egypt and spent ten years alone in the great southern desert of Arabia -- Roba El Khaliyeh or "Empty Space" of the ancients -- and "Dahna" or "Crimson" desert of the modern Arabs, which is held to be inhabited by protective evil spirits and monsters of death. Of this desert many strange and unbelievable marvels are told by those who pretend to have penetrated it. In his last years Alhazred dwelt in Damascus.
In 730, while still living in Damascus, Alhazred supposedly wrote a book of ultimate evil in Arabic, al-Azif, which would later become known as the Necronomicon. Those who have dealings with this book usually come to an unpleasant end, and Alhazred was no exception. Again according to Lovecraft's "History":
- Of his final death or disappearance (738 A.D.) many terrible and conflicting things are told. He is said by Ibn Khallikan (12th cent. biographer) to have been seized by an invisible monster in broad daylight and devoured horribly before a large number of fright-frozen witnesses. Of his madness many things are told. He claimed to have seen the fabulous Irem, or City of Pillars, and to have found beneath the ruins of a certain nameless desert town the shocking annals and secrets of a race older than mankind. He was only an indifferent Muslim, worshipping unknown entities whom he called Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu.
August Derleth later made alterations to the biography of Alhazred, such as redating his death to 731. Derleth also changed Alhazred's final fate, as described in his short story "The Keeper of the Key", first published in May 1951. In the story, Professor Laban Shrewsbury (a recurring Derleth character) and his assistant at the time, Nayland Colum, discover Alhazred's burial site.
While the two are heading a caravan from Salalah, Oman, they cross the border into Yemen and find the unexplored desert area that the Necronomicon calls "Roba el Ehaliyeh" or "Roba el Khaliyeh" — presumably a reference to the Empty Quarter or "Rub al Khali".
At the center of the area they discover the Nameless City (the setting of the Lovecraft story of the same name) and in Derleth's text the domain of the Great Old One Hastur. Shrewsbury, an old agent of Hastur and the devoted enemy of Hastur's half-brother, Cthulhu, crosses its gates in search of Alhazred's burial site.
He indeed finds Alhazred's burial chamber and learns of his fate. Alhazred had been kidnapped in Damascus and brought to the Nameless City, where he had earlier studied and learned some of the Necronomicon's lore. As punishment for betraying their secrets, Alhazred was tortured. Then they blinded him, severed his tongue and executed him.
Although the entrance to the chamber warns against disturbing him, Shrewsbury opens Alhazred's sarcophagus anyway, finding that only rags, bones, and dust remain of Alhazred. However, the sarcophagus also contains Alhazred's personal, incomplete copy of the Necronomicon, written in the Arabic alphabet. Shrewsbury then uses necromancy to recall Alhazred's spirit and orders it to draw a map of the world as he knew it. After obtaining the map, which reveals the location of R'lyeh and other secret places, Shrewsbury finally lets Alhazred return to his eternal rest.
In Non-Mythos Fiction
Like his creation the Necronomicon Alhazred is often referenced in works that are not generally considered part of the Cthulhu Mythos, either as a subtle nod to Lovecraft or to create a connection to his world. A typical example is on page 529 of the Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel A Thousand Sons wherein one of the titular Astartes, considered warlocks in their universe, is running through their Palace of Wisdom (wherein magic tomes are kept) and leaps over 'a marble representation of the mad Scholar Alhazred.'