The four Imams are followers of the Prophet and not vice versa

Q: A detailed report is needed about the four Madh-habs (Schools of Jurisprudence) i.e. Hanafy, Shafi`y, Maliky, and Hanbaly, their status, and the Prophet's stance on them. A dispute arouse between the questioner and a group of aged people when they said that they were Hanbaly and the questioner said that he was Hanafy because Allah (Exalted be He) says: Say (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم): "Truly, my Lord has guided me to a Straight Path, a right religion, the religion of Ibrâhîm (Abraham), Hanîfa [i.e. the true Islâmic Monotheism - to believe in One God (Allâh i.e. to worship none but Allâh, Alone)] and he was not of Al-Mushrikûn (See V.2:105)."

A: All Praise is due to Allah and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger Muhammad, his family, and Companions. To commence: The Hanafy Madh-hab is attributed to Abu Hanifah Al-Nu`man ibn Thabit Al-Kufy. The Maliky Madh-hab is attributed to Malik ibn Anas Al-Asbahy Al-Madany. The Shafi`y Madh-hab is attributed to Muhammad ibn Idris Al-Shafi`y Al-Qurashiy. The Hanbaly Madh-hab is attributed to Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal. All four jurists lived after the epoch of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). They were amongst the best people of their times (may Allah be pleased with them). They applied Ijtihad (juristic effort to infer expert legal rulings) to deduce rulings from the Qur'an, the Hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), and the Ijma` (consensus) of the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet, may Allah be pleased with them all). These four jurists demonstrated the truth to people. Their sayings were conveyed to us, spread amongst Muslims in all countries, and they were followed by many succeeding scholars who had confidence in them, trusted them with regard to their Din (religion), and agreed with them as to the Usul (principles) they depended on. (Part No. 5; Page No. 55) Thus, sayings and opinions of the founders of the four Madh-habs were renowned amongst people through different succeeding scholars. Ordinary Muslims who imitate them and act according to what they knew of their opinions are attributed to the scholar they imitate, though they should still ask contemporary scholars they trust to understand the truth and its proofs.It should be clear now that it is the founders of the Madh-habs who follow the way of the Messenger (peace be upon him) and not vice versa. The Shari`ah (Islamic law) that the Messenger conveyed from Allah is the original source that is referred to by all scholars (may Allah be pleased with them). On the other hand, every Muslim is called Hanify because of their compliance with lenient Hanifiyyah (true religion) which is the religion of prophet Ibrahim (Abraham, peace be upon him) and our prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions.