Imam Abu Hanifa says "When a hadeeth is found to be saheeh, then that is my madhhab."
"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." (Imaam Shaafi)
Commenting on these statements, Imaam Nawawi (rahmatullah alayh) says:
"This which Imaam Shaafi has said does not mean that everyone who sees a Saheeh Hadith should say: 'This is the Math-hab of Shaafi, thus practising on the zaahir (text/external or apparent meaning) of the Hadith.
This most certainly applies to only such a person who has the rank of Ijtihaad in the Math-hab. It is a condition that he overwhelmingly believes that Imaam Shaafi was unaware of this Hadith or he was unaware of its authenticity. And this is possible only after having made a research of all the books of Shaafi and similar other books of the Ashaab of Shaafi, those who take (knowledge) from him, and others similar to these (books). This is indeed a difficult condition (to fulfil). Few are there who measure up to this (standard).
What we have explained has been made conditional because Imaam Shaafi had abandoned acting on the zaahir (text) of many Ahadith which he saw and knew. However by him was established proof for criticism in the Hadith or its abrogation or its specific circumstance or its interpretation, etc. (hence he was constrained to leave aside the hadith)." (I'laaus Sunan, Vol. 2, page 225)
Shaikh Abu Amr(rahmatullah alayh) said: "It is not easy to act according to the apparent (zaahir) text of what Imaam Shaafi said. It is not lawful for (even) every Faqeeh (qualified Aalim who has deep insight) to act independently with that which he opines to be proof from the Hadith." (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 one 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 Math-hab' has been narrated from each o*ne 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 Math-hab, 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 Math-habs.........These are the o*nes whom the Imaam (of the Math-hab) had directed his statement: 'When the Hadith is Saheeh, it is my Math-hab.'....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 o*ne so that the later one can be the Naasikh (abrogator) for the earlier one."
The Qur'aan commands: "O People of Imaan! Obey Allah, obey the Rasool and the Ulool Amr among you." (Surah An Nisa - Verse 59)
The Ulool Amr (the Leaders) mentioned in this Qur'aanic verse apply in the first instance to the Sahaabah, next to the Taabioon and then to the Tab-e-Taabioon. These are the three illustrious groups of the Sunnah singled out for obedience by Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). He, therefore said:
"The best people are my contemporaries (i.e., the present (my) generation) and then those who come after them (i.e., the next generation)." `Imran added: I am not sure whether the Prophet repeated the statement twice after his first saying. The Prophet (S.A.W) added, "And after them there will come people who will bear witness, though they will not be asked to give their witness; and they will be treacherous and nobody will trust them, and they will make vows, but will not fulfill them, and fatness will appear among them." Sahih Bukhari Volume 8.hadith number 436
These are the ages of the Sahaabah, Taabi-oon and Tab-e-Taabioon. Speaking glowingly of the Salf-e-Saalihoon, the Qur'aan Majeed says:
"Those who went ahead first (the Sahaabah) among the Muhaajireen and Ansaar, and those who followed them with goodness, Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him...." (Aayat 100, Surah Taubah)
May Allah guide you and all of us towards the right path. Ameen