Abdul Alhazred, or the Mad Arab, is a recurring character in the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He is frequently cited as the author of the fabled Necronomicon, an occult text containing knowledge from beyond the Earth.
Abdul Alhazred is not an Arabic name. The more proper Arabic form might be Abd al-Hazred or simply Abdul Hazred, although these are still anomalous, as Hazred is not one of the 99 Names of God. In Arabic texts, his name has appeared as Abdullah al-Ḥaẓrad (عبدالله الحظرد).
The term "Mad Arab" in reference to Alhazred is always capitalised and used in the manner of an official title such as another person would be called "Prince" or "Sir" and the term can actually be used in lieu of Alhazred's name as a synonym.
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 secrets of Memphis and spent ten years alone in the great southern desert of Arabia — the 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 authored in Arabic a book of ultimate evil, al Azif, which would later become known as the Necronomicon.
Those who have any dealings with the Necronomicon usually come to an unpleasant end, and Alhazred was no exception. Again according to Lovecraft:
- Of his final death or disappearance (738 A.D.) many terrible and conflicting things are told. He is said by Ibn Khallikan (13th century 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 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 Moslem, worshipping unknown entities whom he called Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu.
August Derleth later made alterations to the biography of Alhazred. One change was changing the date of Alhazred's death to 731 A.D. Derleth further wrote on the final fate of Alhazred in his story "The Keeper of the Key", first published in May, 1951. In this story, Dr. Laban Shrewsbury (a recurring Derleth character) and his assistant Naylan Colum discover Alhazred's burial site. More specifically, they were heading a caravan from Salalah, Oman, and crossed the border into Yemen.
There, Shrewsbury and Colum found the unexplored desert area the Necronomicon names as "Roba el Ehaliyeh," or "Roba el Khaliyeh" -- perhaps a form of "Rabia al-Awliya" (which, again, is not proper Arabic, but could be an allusion to the Sufi Saint Rabia). It may be a reference to the "Rubʿ al Khali", or "The Empty Quarter", the vast southern portion of the Arabian Desert. At the center of the area they discovered the Nameless City, a domain of Hastur.
Shrewsbury, as an old agent of Hastur and devoted enemy of his half-brother CthIulhu, crossed its gates in search of Alhazred's burial site. He indeed found the gate of Alhazred's burial chamber and learned of his fate. Alhazred was kidnapped in Damascus and brought to the Nameless City, where he had earlier studied and learned some of Necronomicon's secrets. As punishment for his betrayal of their secrets, Alhazred was tortured. Then they blinded him and severed his tongue, and finally executed him. The entrance to the chamber warned against disturbing him. But Shrewbury proceeded in entering the chamber and opening the sarcophagus.
Though only rugs, bones and dust remained of Alhazred, the sarcophagus also contained an incomplete personal copy of the Necronomicon, written in the Arabic alphabet. Then Shrewsbury used necromancy to recall Alhazred's spirit and ordered it to draw a map of the world as he knew it. After obtaining the map, which revealed the location of R'lyeh and other secret places, Shrewsbury finally let Alhazred return to his eternal rest.