Among Muslim scholars and common people there is debate and controversy over following an Imam/mazhab.
We will discuss this issue in detail but Before we would like to discuss
some Misunderstanding around Taqleed Issue among general public and internet debators.
It is wrong. There is no taqleed in Major part of deen. As ruling with regard to these are clear and whosoever has knowledge of language can understand it.
Famous Jurist Shaykh Khatib Al-Baghdadi writes:
"As far as the Islamic rules are concerned, there are of two types. The first are those which are known by necessity to be part of the Deen of the Prophet sallalahu alaihi wa sallam like the five prayers, Zakaat, fasting in Ramadhan, Hajj; the prohibition of adultery, wine and so on. Taqleed is not allowed in these issues since they are such that everyone should know and understand. The second type are those rules which need to be understood and extrapolated such as the details of the rituals of worship, transactions and weddings, for example, Taqleed is allowed in these issues
since Allah says:
"So ask the people of remembrance if you know not." (Surah Al-Nahl: 43)
Al-Faqih wal Mutafaqqihah - page 67, vol.2 printed by Darul Iftaa, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 1389
Taqleed is done only in those aspect where more than one interpretation is possible from Ahadeeth.
The famous Islamic jurist, Shaykh Abdul Ghani Al-Nablusi states:
The issues which are agreed upon - without any doubt and by necessity - do not require any Taqleed of any of the four Imams like the obligation of Salaat. Fasting, Zakaat and Hajj, etc. and like the prohibition of adultery and fornication, drinking wine, murder, stealing and usurping. The issues which are debated are the issues where Taqleed becomes necessary."
Khulasataul Tahqeeq fi Hukm at-Taqleed wa at-Talfeeq - page - 4 printed by Al-Yasheeq, Istanbul
Among the Sunni muslims (means all muslims, other than Shias, We don’t know anything about shias) nearly 96% of muslims follow either of the four mazhab/Great Imams, (eg HANAFI’s 47%, SHAFAI 16%, MALIKI 28%, HANBALI 4%.
Salafis brothers who don’t follow any of the four Imam are nearly 3% of muslim population worldwide.
This estimation is refrenced to the document THE 500 MOST INFLUENTIAL MUSLIMS 2010 edition by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre Page no.16&18 and of Wikipedia and merely estimation. Some of the other sources have estimated Hanafis more than 50% of the sunni muslims.)
A basic principle of all four Mazhab is to respect each other and their scholars are related with each other as teacher and students.
There are scholary discussion and debate but their is no groupism ever heard among them.
Their scholars and General public have mutual respect.
Imam Shafaee about Imam Abu Haneefah
"All are children of Imam Abu Haneefa in matter of Jurisprudence"
"When he Imam Shafaee visited his place. He prayed according to Abu Haneefa mazhab."
Once in Deoband one Alim was explaining the position of Hanafi that was different from Shafaee Position on particular issue. One of his disciple commented that even imam shafaee would have accepted your view.The teacher said if Imam Shafaee will come today I will become his Student.
In Kerala where Muslims are Shafaee.Madarsaas are run by Shafaee.There are student from North India for them They arrange Hanafi teacher for Fiqh.They remain in same Hostel under same roof.
It is a very scientific and Rational process based on established priciples. Although it is after name of one person like Abu Haneefa/Shafaee/malik/hanbal Rahmatullah Alaihi..............But actually there were group of scholars expert in different field like Hadeeth/Quranic Tafseer/Arabic languaage who actively took part in the process.
Again it was relooked and Scrutenised by later scholars without any bias.They also differed from their Imam in the light of evidences and this process is continuous
e.g............ Imam Abu Haneefa work was scrutenised by Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad
...........Imam Shafaee work by Imam Mugni and Imam Nawwi R.A.
Similarly for others.
These Imams were people of unquestionable authorith. .................I am Giving example
Makki Ibn Ibrahim, teacher of Imam Bukhari; and any Hadith which Imam Bukhari has narrated with only three narrators in it's chain are mostly through Ibn Ibrahim.
Makki Ibn Ibrahim was also the student of Imam Abu Hanifa, he stated
"Imam Abu Hanifa was the most knowledgeable person of his time."
Narrated by Hafiz Muzzi in the footnotes of Tadhibul Tahdeeb above page 451
The Imams and their associates scholar were not only known to Aadith (apparantly looking against their views) rather they have discussed it and have presented their understanding about the Hadith and Quranic and Ahadith evidence for their position.
Imam Al Awzaa`ee met Aboo Haneefah in Makkah and observed:
Abu Haneefah who countered:
When the Sunnah was authenticated, no one deviated from it.
If differences occurred it was only because of varying understanding or interpretation.
However, when this happened each person accepted the other's point of view so long as the interpretation could be sustained by the text and there was no other authentic evidence to the contrary.
Islam has clear guidelines in this situation
Amir ibn Al-’As رضى الله عنه reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم say,
عَنْ عَمْرِو بْنِ الْعَاصِ أَنَّهُ سَمِعَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ إِذَا حَكَمَ الْحَاكِمُ فَاجْتَهَدَ ثُمَّ أَصَابَ فَلَهُ أَجْرَانِ وَإِذَا حَكَمَ فَاجْتَهَدَ ثُمَّ أَخْطَأَ فَلَهُ أَجْرٌ
“If a judge makes a ruling, striving to apply his reasoning (ijtihad) and he is correct, then he will have two rewards; and if a judge makes a ruling, striving to apply his reasoning and he is mistaken, then he will have one reward.”
[Sahih Muslim, Book 18, Number 4261]
And Allah knows the best. Requesting for dua.