Following are some of the oft-repeated quotes used by some muslims to decry madhab following -
"When you find in my kitaab anything contradicting the Sunnah of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) then say (i.e. command) the Sunnah of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and leave aside my statement."
"When the Hadith is established as authentic in opposition to my statement, then act according to the Hadith and abandon my statement."
"When the authenticity of the Hadith is established, then that is my Math-hab."
"When the Hadith is authentic then that is my Madhab."[/i]
(Imaam Abu Hanifah)
The authenticity of these statements is not contested.
Following is a commentary on those quotes - just so that we be careful to not quote them out of context
Commenting on these statements, Imaam Nawawi (rahmatullah alayh) says:
"What Imam al-Shafi'i said does not mean that everyone who sees a s.ah.ih. h.adith should say "This is the madhhab of al-Shafi'i," applying the purely external or apparent meaning of his statement. What he said most certainly applies only to such a person as has the rank of ijtihad in the madhhab. It is a condition for such a person that he be firmly convinced that either Imam al-Shafi'i was unaware of this h.adith or he was unaware of its authenticity. And this is possible only after having researched all the books of al-Shafi'i and similar other books of the companions of al-Shafi'i, those who took knowledge from him and others similar to them. This is indeed a difficult condition to fulfill. Few are those who measure up to this standard in our times.
What we have explained has been made conditional because Imam al-Shafi'i had abandoned acting purely on the external mean*ing of many h.adiths, which he declared and knew. However, he established proofs for criticism of the h.adith or its abrogation or specific circumstances or interpretation and so forth.
Shaykh Abu 'Amr [Ibn al-S.alah.] said:
"It is no trivial matter to act according to the apparent meaning of what Imam al-Shafi'i said. For it is not permissible for every faqih – let alone a layman ('ammi – to act independently with what he takes to be a proof from the h.adith…
[Imam Nawawi continues...]
Therefore, whoever among the Shafi'is finds a h.adith that contradicts his School must examine whether he is absolutely accomplished in all the disciplines of ijtihad, or in that particular topic, or specific ques*tion. [If he is,] then he has the right to apply it independently. If he is not, but finds that contravening the h.adith bears too heavily upon him – after having researched it and found no justification for contravening it – then he may apply it if another independent Imam other than al-Shafi'i applies it. This is a good excuse for him to leave the madhhab of his Imam in such a case."
(I'laaus Sunan, Vol. 2, page 225)
.It also appears in I'laaus Sunan of muhaddith Zafar Ahmad Uthmaani (rahmatullah alayh):
"Imaam Sha'raani has also narrated it (i.e. the statement 'When the authenticity of a Hadith is established it is my Math-hab.'), attributing it to the four Imaams. It is not hidden (from understanding) that this is for the o*ne who has the ability (insight and qualification) in the Nusoos and the knowledge of its clear laws and its abrogations."
(Volume 2, page 226)
Discussing this statement in his treatise, Shaikh Yusuf Bin Ismaail Nibhaani says:
"Verily, the statement: 'When the Hadith has been authenticated, then it is my Madhab' has been narrated from each one of these four Imaams who were free from personal opinion. The audience to whom this statement ('When the Hadith is Saheeh it is my Math-hab.') was directed, is only his (the Imaam's) Ashaab (the Fuqaha of his Math-hab) who were great and illustrious Aimmah fully qualified in the rational and narrational sciences (of the Deen). (And the statement is directed to) those who came after these illustrious Aimmah among the great Ulama of his Madhab, those who were the Ahlut Tarjeeh (a high category of Ulama). All of them who were the Haafizeen of the Hadith of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) were fully aware of the daleels (proofs) of all the Madhabs.........These are the ones whom the Imaam (of the Math-hab) had directed his statement: 'When the Hadith is Saheeh, it is my Madhab.'....Verily, they (these great Fuqaha) are able to reconcile between the Hadith from which the Imaam had derived proof, and the (latest) Hadith which was established as authentic after the Imaam. They (these illustrious Fuqaha) can see which of the two Hadiths is more authentic, stronger and which of the two Hadiths is the later one so that the later one can be the Naasikh (abrogator) for the earlier one."
(Hujjatullah alal Aalameen)
It should now be crystal clear that the statement: "When the Hadith is Saheeh it is my Madhab.", is directed to an audience of illustrious Fuqaha who were masters and experts in Ijtihaad; who had embraced all sciences of the Shar'i Uloom; who were Muqallideen of their Imaams, who were Huffaz of Hadith; who were experts of both narrational and rational (Manqool and Uqool) branches of knowledge; -in short, who were Ulama and Fuqaha of the highest category,
I hope that the above makes it clear that those quotes of the Imam Abu hanifa and Imam Ash-Shafii cannot be taken as argument against madhhab following.