Following the Prophet or someone else

Q223 :Is it proper to say that one follows an Imam, such as the founder of any of the four major schools of thought or should we say that we follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)? May I also ask about the meaning of the Verses 166-167 of Surah 2 and whether they apply to following the four imams?

A223 : As Muslims, we follow God's Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is what is required of every one of us. Only by following the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) can we redeem ourselves on the day of judgment. No one will be asked on that day which school of thought he had followed, but he will be asked whether he had followed the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or not. The great scholars who founded the four schools of thought, and indeed those who contributed to each one of these four schools, as well as other great scholars who had their own methods and made their own rulings, either in line with those schools or independently, were merely helping ordinary people follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). They did not bring anything new, nor did they devise something that was at variance with the Prophet's guidance. Far be it from any of them to do so. Their aim was one, but their methods differed. They had their methods of deduction and their measures of value which they assigned to each piece of evidence that concerned any aspect of legislation. We do them wrong if we claim that they made their rulings as they considered fit. No one of them ever claimed to do so. They simply studied the Qur'an and the Hadith, as well as the practical Sunnah and the great legacy of scholarship they received from the time of the Prophet up to their own time. They balanced opposing considerations and considered people's interests and how best to serve these, since the purpose of the Islamic law is to ensure that people's best interests are properly served. The two Qur'anic verses to which you have referred may be translated as follows: "Those who have been followed would dissociate themselves from those who followed them, when they have seen the punishment and felt that all relations would be cut off. Those who followed them would say: "If only we had one more chance so that we dissociate ourselves from them, as they have dissociated themselves from us. Thus God will show them the fruits of their deeds as nothing but regrets. They will have no way out of the fire." These verses do not speak of every type of following. Most certainly they do not refer to following any Muslim scholar, let alone the noble scholars who founded the schools of thought. These verses speak of people who follow others that lead them astray. This applies, for example, to following a political or social leader who adopts a course of action which is contrary to Islamic teachings. He will thus lead his people to ruin because when they follow him they displease God. They will be acting against the Prophet's guidance.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )