Shaykh Muhammad Bazmool said, “…As for the Muslim following a fiqh madhab, the Hanafee madhab, the Maalikee madhab, the Shaafi’ee madhab, or the Hanbalee madhab, I say: the basic ruling regarding this affair is that a Muslim is not required to follow any of these four madhabs.
The messenger only called the people to follow the Book and the Sunnah and he clarified to them that they must understand the Book and the Sunnah as he and his companions understood it. He also emphasized that we follow the rightly-guided khaleefahs. This remained the case all the way to the era of the four imams of fiqh and others. There was never any obligation upon the Muslims to follow any of these four madhabs.
Thus based on this, I say that the correct position is that Islam does not obligate the Muslim to follow one of the four madhabs and this is clear inshallah Allah…
(On the other hand)…Muslims are obliged to ascribe to the Salafi/Sunni manhaj (of what the prophet Mohammed) and his companions were upon. It is to understand the religion in light of the understanding of the Salaf us-Saalih (righteous predecessors).
So then the Muslim is indeed obligated to follow this methodology (i.e. the Salafi manhaj).
It is not permissible for the Muslim to abandon what the messenger and the companions were upon for any reason whatsoever.
Therefore, this is the manhaj, the straight path by which a person reaches salvation on the Day of Standing, inshallah.
The Ppophet Mohammed said, “The Jews split into 71 sects, and the Christians split into 72 sects. My nation is going to split into 73 sects, and all of them will be in the Hellfire except one.”
It was said, “Who are they, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied,
“They those who are upon what I and my Companions are upon.” 
This is what the Salafi manhaj is. It is the following of the messenger and his companions.
So can we say to a new Muslim, “You are not required to follow this manhaj”? No!
Rather we say, “Your Islam will never be true, sound Islam, free of innovations and mistakes, unless you follow this (Salafi) manhaj, unless you follow what the messenger and his companions were upon.”
Whoever opposes what the messenger and his companions were upon is from the people of differing and he is included in the 72 (astray) sects. He is still a Muslim, however he is subject to the threat mentioned in the hadeeth – that “All of them will be in the Hellfire except one.”
When I say, “He is subject to the threat mentioned in the hadeeth,” I mean that he is subject to the will of Allah. If Allah wants, He punishes him; if He wants, He forgives him. Due to his opposition to what the messenger and his companions were upon, then he can only be in one of two categories:
(1) his contradiction leads him outside of the religion, so he is from the disbelievers;
or (2) his contradiction does not expel him from the religion, therefore he is from the people of disobedience and innovation, and thus from the 72 (deviated) sects that are subject to punishment and Allah knows best.
So with this, we have differentiated between the issue of following a fiqh madhab and the issue of following the Salafi manhaj.
Therefore the Muslim is not required to follow one of the madhab.
But as for following the Salafi manhaj, meaning to understand the religion in light of what the messenger and his companions were upon, to follow the way of the salaf, I say that this is the true Islam. Whoever goes away from this, he only goes away from the true Islam. And his departure from true Islam is either a departure from the religion in totality or a deviation from the straight path that makes him from the people of innovation, disobedience, and error, thus he is considered to be from the 72 (misguided) sects and Allah knows best.”
 From an authentic hadeeth collected by Abu Dawud, At-Tirmithee, Ibn Maajah, and others. Shaykh Albaanee discusses its different chains and wordings in his Silsilatul Ahaadeeth-Saheehah (203-204).
Posted by Abdul Kareem Ibn Ozzie