Praise be to Allah.
Allaah has made our worship based on His Book and the Sunnah of His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). The right way is to understand the texts of sharee’ah as they were understood by the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and their followers among the scholars who are qualified and prominent mujtahids. This includes the imaams whose sincerity, fairness and leadership in religion, knowledge, virtue, goodness and righteousness is a matter of record. The four imaams and founders of the schools of Islamic fiqh (Imaam Abu Haneefah, Imaam Maalik, Imaam al-Shaafa’i and Imaam Ahmad) – may Allaah have mercy on them all – all followed the texts of the Sharee’ah and their efforts were all focused on teaching and spreading sound Islamic knowledge. All of them were on the right path, and all were devoted followers of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). If mistakes happened, then the Sahaabah made mistakes too. The things to be followed in Sharee’ah are those for which evidence (daleel) is established. In some cases, some scholars may not have known of daleel whilst others did, but this does not mean that their knowledge and ability is to be discredited. All of them were seeking to find and propagate the truth. If a person wants to follow one of the Imaams and adopt his madhhab, then he should follow him in matters for which there is clear, sound daleel, for this is what is required in Islam, but he should not develop partisan or sectarian feelings towards anybody. It is not permissible for the Muslim to believe that he has to follow anybody in all that he says except the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).
The person who is suitably qualified can examine what the scholars said and see what is supported by sound daleel. The “rank and file” Muslim who does not know how to examine the evidence and weigh it up should follow a scholar whose religious commitment and knowledge he trusts, and act according to his fatwas. And Allaah knows best.