Umar ibn al-Khattab became angry at the dispute between Ubayy ibn Ka’b and Ibn Masood about prayer in a single garment. Ubayy said, Prayer in one garment is good and fine; Ibn Masood said, that it is only when one does not have many clothes. So Umar came out in anger, saying, "Two men from among the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, who are looked up to and learnt from, disputing?" Ubayy has spoken the truth and not cared about Ibn Masood. But if I hear anyone disputing about it after this I will do such and-such to him. [ibid 2/83-4]
If it is said further: "What you have quoted from Imam Maalik that truth is only one, not plural, is contradicted by what is found in Al-Madkhal al-Fiqhi by Shaikh Zarqaa (1/89)," The Caliphs Abu Jaffar al-Mansoor and later ar-Rasheed proposed to select the Mazhab of Imaam Maalik and his book al-Muwatta as the official code of law for the Abbasi Empire, but Maalik forbade them from this, saying, "Indeed, the Companions of the Messenger of Allah differed in the non-fundamental issues and were scattered in various towns, but each of them was correct."
I say: This incident of Imam Maalik is well known, but his saying at the end, "but each of them was correct" is one for which I find no basis in any of the narrations or sources I have come across (cf. Al-Intiqaa by Ibn Abdul Barr  Kashf al-Mughatta fi Fadl al-Muwatta [pp 6-7] by Ibn Asaakir & Tadhkira al-Huffaaz by Dhahabi [1/195] ), by Allah, except for one narration collected by Abu Nu’aim in Hilyah al-Awliyaa (6/332), but with a chain of narrators which includes al-Miqdaam ibn Dawood who is classified among the weak narrators by Dhahabi in ad-Du’afaa; not only this, but the wording of it is, "...but each of them was correct in his own eyes" Hence the phrase ‘ In his own eyes ’ shows that the narration in Madkhal is fabricated; indeed, how could it be otherwise, when it contradicts what has been reported on reliable authority from Imam Maalik that truth is only one and not plural, as we have mentioned, and this is agreed on by all the Imams of the Companions and the Successors as well as the four Mujtahid Imams and others. Ibn Abdul Barr says "If the conflicting views could both be right, the Salaf would not have corrected each other’s ijtihaad, judgements, and verdicts." Simple reasoning forbids that something and its opposite can both be correct; as the fine saying goes,
[Jaami Bayaan al-Ilm 2/88]
If it is said further, "Given that this narration from Imam Maalik is false, why did he forbid al-Mansoor from bringing the people together on his book Al-Muwatta rather than acceding to the Caliph’s wish?"
I say: The best that I have found in answer to this is what Hafiz Ibn Katheer has mentioned in his Sharh Ikhtisaar Uloom al-Hadeeth (p 31), that Imam Maalik said, "Indeed the people have come together on, and know of, things which we are not acquainted with". This was part of the excellence of his wisdom and impartiality, as Ibne Katheer says.
Hence it is proved that all differing is bad, not a mercy! However, one type of differing is reprehensible, such as that of staunch followers of the Mazhabs, while another type is not blameworthy, such as the differing of the Companions and the Imams who succeeded them -- May Allah raise us in their company, and give us the capability to tread their path.
Therefore it is clear that the differing of the Companions was not like that of the muqallideen. Briefly: the Companions only differed when it was inevitable, but they used to hate disputes, and would avoid them whenever possible; as for the muqallideen, even though it is possible in a great many cases to avoid differing, they do not agree not strive towards unity; in fact they uphold differing. Hence there is an enormous gulf between these two types of people in their difference of opinion.
As for the muqallideen, their differing is totally opposite, for it has caused Muslims to be divided in the mightiest pillar of faith after the two testifications of faith: none other than Salah (prayer). They refuse to pray together behind one imam, arguing that the imam’s prayer is invalid, or at least detestable, for someone of a different Mazhab. This we have heard and seen, as others beside us have seen; how can it not be, when now a days some famous books of the Mazhabs rule such cases of invalidity or detestability. The result of this is that you find four mihraabs (alcoves) in some large congregational masajid, in which four imaams successively lead the Prayer, and you find people waiting for their imaam while another imaam is already standing in prayer!!!
In fact, to some muqallideen, the difference between the Mazhabs has reached a worse state than that, such as a ban in marriage between Hanafees and Shaafiis; one well known Hanafee scholar, later nicknamed Mufti ath-Thaqalayn (The mufti for humans and Jinn), issued a fatwaa allowing a Hanafee man to marry a Shaafi woman because her position is like that of the people of the book ! (Al-Bahr ar-Raa’iq) This implies -- and implied meanings are acceptable to them -- that the reverse case is not allowed i.e. a Hanafee woman marrying a Shafii man, just as a Muslim woman cannot marry a Jew or a Christian?!!
These two examples out of many are enough to illustrate to anyone intelligent the evil effects of differing of the later generations and their insistence upon it, unlike the differing of the earlier generations (the Salaf), which did not have any adverse effect on the Ummah. Because of this, the latter are exempt from the verses prohibiting division in the Deen, unlike the later generations. May Allah guide us all to the straight path.
Further, how we wish that the harm caused by such differing be limited to among themselves and not extend to other peoples being given da’wah, for then it would not be that bad, but it is so sad when they allow it to reach the non-believers in many areas around the world, and their differing obstructs the entry of people in large numbers into the Deen of Allah!
The book Zalaam min al-Gharb by Muhammad al Ghazali (p.200) records the following incident.
It so happened during a conference held at the University of Princeton in America that one of the speakers raised a question, one which is a favorite of the Orientalists and the attackers of Islam: ‘ Which teachings do the Muslims advance to the world in order to specify the Islam towards which they are inviting ? Is it Islamic teachings as understood by the Sunnis? Or it is as understood by the Imaami or Zaidi Shias? Moreover, all of these are divided further amongst themselves, and further, some of them believe in limited progression in thought, while others believe obstinately in fixed ideas.’
The result was that the inviters to Islam left those behind invited in confusion, for they were themselves utterly confused.
In the Preface to Hadiyyah as-Sultaan ilaa Muslimee Bilaad Jaabaan by Allama Sultan al-Masoomi, the author says,
This was because a major differing, a filthy dispute, had occurred here, when a number of groups of Japanese intellectuals wanted to enter into the Deen of Islam, and be ennobled by the nobility of Eeman. When they proposed this to some Muslims present in Tokyo, some people from India said, "It is best that they choose the Mazhab of Abu Hanifa for he is the Lamp of the Ummah"; some people from Indonesia (Java) said, "No, they should be Shaafi!" So when the Japanese heard these statements, they were extremely perplexed and were thrown of their original purpose. Hence the issue of the Mazhabs became a barrier in the path of their accepting Islam!!
Others have the idea that what we invite to, of following the Sunnah and not accepting the views of the Imams contrary to it, means to completely abandon following their views and benefiting from their opinions and ijtihaad.
This idea is as far as can be from the truth -- it is false and obviously flawed, as is clearly evident from our previous discussion, all of which suggests otherwise. All that we are calling to is to stop treating the Mazhab as Deen, placing it in the position of the Quran and the Sunnah, such that it is referred to in the case of dispute or when extracting a new judgement for unexpected circumstances, as the so called jurists of this age do when setting new rules for personal matters, marriage, divorce, etc. Instead of referring to the Quran and the Sunnah to distinguish the right from the wrong, the truth from falsehood -- all of this on the basis of their "Differing is a Mercy" and their idea of pursuing every concession, ease and convenience! How fine was the saying of Sulaiman at-Taymi:
All this pursuing of concessions for the sake of it is what we reject, and it agrees with ijmaa, as you see. As for referring to the Imams views, benefiting from them, and being helped by them in understanding the truth where they have differed and there is no text in the Quran and the Sunnah, or when there is need for clarification, we do not reject it. In fact we enjoin it and stress upon it, for there is much benefit expected in this for whoever treads the path of being guided by the Quran and the Sunnah.
Allama Ibn Abdul Barr says [2/182]:
There exists another common misconception among muqallideen which bars them from practicing the Sunnah which it is apparent to them that there Mazhab is different to it in that issue: they think that practicing that Sunnah entails faulting the founder of the Mazhab. To them, finding fault means Insulting the Imam; if it is not allowed to insult any individual Muslim, how can they insult one of their Imams?
This reasoning is totally fallacious and borne of not understanding the Sunnah; otherwise, how can an intelligent Muslim argue in such a way!
The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) himself said:
This hadeeth refutes the above argument and explains lucidly and without any obscurity that if someone says, "So and so was wrong", its meaning under the Shariah is "So and so has one reward". So if he is rewarded in the eyes of the one finding fault, how can you accuse the latter of insulting him! There is doubt that this type of accusation is baseless and anyone who makes it must retract it: otherwise it is he who is insulting Muslims, not just ordinary individuals among them, but their great Imams among the Companions, Successors the subsequent Mujtahid Imams and others. This is because we know for sure that these illustrious personalities used to fault and refute each other; is it reasonable to say, "They used to insult each other" No! In fact, it is authentically reported that the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) himself faulted Abu Bakar (r.a.u.) in his interpretation of a man’s dream, saying to him, "You were right in some of it and wrong in some of it" [Ref: Bukhari and Muslim]. -- so did he insult Abu Bakar by these words?!
One of the astonishing effects this misconception has on its holders is that it prevents them from following the Sunnah when it is different to there Mazhab, since to them practicing it means insulting the Imam, whereas following him, even when contrary to the Sunnah, means respecting and loving him! Hence they insist on following his opinion to escape from this supposed disrespect.
These people have forgotten -- I am not saying... pretended to forget -- that because of this notion, they have landed in something far worse than that from which they were fleeing. It should be said to them, "If to follow someone means that you are respecting him, and to oppose him means that you are insulting him, then how do you allow yourself to oppose the example of the Prophet and not follow it, preferring to follow the Imam of the Mazhab in a path different to the Sunnah, when the Imam is not infallible and insulting him is not Kufar?! If you interpret opposing the Imam as insulting him, then opposing the Messenger of Allah is more obviously insulting him; in fact it is open Kufar, from which we seek refuge with Allah!" If this is said to them, they cannot answer to it, by Allah, except one retort which we hear time and time again from some of them: "We have left this Sunnah trusting in the Imam of the Mazhab, and he was more learned about the Sunnah than us"
Our answer to this is from many angles, which have already been discussed at length in this introduction. This is why I shall briefly limit myself to one approach, a decisive reply by the permission of Allah. I say:
The Imam of your Mazhab is not the only one who was more learned about the Sunnah than you: in fact, there are dozens, nay hundreds, of Imams who too were more knowledgeable about the Sunnah than you. Therefore if an authentic Sunnah happens to differ from your Mazhab, and it was taken by one of these other Imams, it is definitely essential that you accept this Sunnah in this circumstance. This is because your above mentioned argument is of no use here, for the one opposing you will reply, ‘We have accepted this Sunnah trusting in our Imam, who accepted it’ -- in this instance, to follow the latter Imam is preferable to following the Imam who has differed from the Sunnah.