There is a fairly recent theory that has been floating around by some folk, usually highly sectarianized, which began in the later part of the 20th century. The source of this myth was mainly developed by the salafphobic elements of the Islamic community, and unsurprisingly agreed with by post 900 hijri asharized “athari” fanboys who take a liking to revisionist neotrad fikr. One such myth is the claim that Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله was largely unknown to the Muslim world UNTIL Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab came on the scene. Another variant of this argument is that he was largely unknown until saudi petro dollars made this possible. This post of mine aims to evaporate this myth into the air of absurdity where it came from. I know this myth well because I was given to this argument years ago by certain individuals. Some still propel this myth. This was originally posted on my Facebook back in 2017 but I felt it deserving its own post as this question seems to continually receive a fair share of thought by innocent bystanders who hear this myth.
Historical context 1: Why would people across hundreds of miles want his aqida specifically from Ibn Taymiyyah. Think about this. If he was unknown as his absurd antagonists would have us believe, why would they specifically ask him to outline doctrine for them. Even when he was asked to write one for wasit, he flat out denied to do it telling them “there’s enough books of creed, read from them“. Their response was “NO, we want an outline of islamic beliefs from you“. I find it strange that people of various parts of the Muslim world would seek ibn Taymiyyah’s sole take on theology, a “prime pick’ if you would, and juxtapose that with the idea of his largely being unknown to the Muslim world until saudi petro dollars came on the seen, or a more widely used variant, until MIAW popularized him.
Historical context 2: Moreover, unlike the heterodox ideologues among the Ash’aris of his time, when he died, his janazah was literally jam packed like the salaf imams imn the distant past with hundreds of thousands of people in Damascus and all over the surrounding regions as recorded by ibn Kathir and other historians. If he was largely unknown as his antagonists would have us believe, then why would multitudes of Muslims in the muslim world would come to his janazah. They dont come out for their own Ash’ari or sufi scholars. Is there some kind of jealousy/animosity factor at play as to why this myth would be concocted by such agents of controversy? Please note, the reports are truly scattered and everywhere, with estimates of as low as 35k, 60k, some cite 100k, and some even cite 200k. Regardless of the amount, what can be inferred here in definite terms was that this was no sheer small feat, but an epic feat, especially in a pre-modern society with a lack of means of travel.
If he was “unknown” as such antagonists suggest, nobody would have attended his janazah like nobody attended their own heterodox ideologue’s janazah. Anyways, moving along!
Historical context 3: Furthermore, hafidh badru-deen al-Ayni after defending ibn taymiyyah by declaring everyone who called him a deviant as deviants and calling whoever called him a kafir as a kafir, said something very interesting that directly refutes this myth. Remember, al-Ayni is around the 800-900 hijri years, contemporaneous with Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani, more than 3 centuries before MIAW. This is what he literally says
“how could he be a heretic when his works are WIDELY AVAILABLE and his renown is unmatched”.
Why would a Hanafi Maturidi, Imam of the Hanafis of his time and their chief scholar for the period, defend Ibn Taymiyyah, and claim that he is popular and widely available. This contradicts this newly concocted idea that he was largely majhul until miaw or saudi petro cash came into the global scene. It seems that according to the greatest Hanafi scholar 5 hundred years ago, ibn taymiyyah was already introduced into the global scene. I find this one testimony of a great scholar like al-ayni to but much more credible than the spineless revisionist sectarians, and the asharized neotrad atharis who agree with them.
Historical context 4: Now this is cognitive inductive argument, but a fairly sound and good one I might add and thus it will take a deeper mind to understand this. All of his contemporaries accepted him as the master of all the sciences, a true polymath of epic proportions, even his enemies. And this was stated by their own words, not mine. How exactly does someone of this calibur go largely “unnoticed” by the ummah until the time of Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab? If one were to accept these insurmountable praises they made for his well rounded ocean of knowledge, and juxtapose it with this currently developed myth, one could only conclude that muslim scholarship post ibn taymiyyah failed miserably in retaining good scholarship, betrayed the trust, and were too stupid until Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab came along. I can’t accept this nor can any sane Muslim as well accept it! Thus, this myth is preposterous to assume if one were to juxtapose this with this historical point of muslim scholarship of his time.
History itself destroys this myth from various contexts.