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I guess this calls for some historians. As far as the comments are concerned, I believe its a matter of , Sami'na wa ata'na, I heard and I obeyed. It is apparant from the time of the Sahabas that the muslims would agree to the judgement of the senior Sahaba's.
Many of the Fatawa of the Khulafa-e-Rashedeen appear in "Musannif ibn Abi Shaibah" and others. These fatwas were accepted with NO questions asked and NO references provided. It seems that the scholars mentioned were the Sahaba, Tabi'een and so on. Allahu Allum.
If need be, then maybe some of the seniors can shed more light on this matter, for me its a case of Sami'na wa ata'na, we are smaller than juniors and far from being seniors in the matter of Deen. We can only pray toAllah that he keeps us steadfast on the correct path at all times and increase us all in the knowledge of the Deen.
It is apparent from here who these scholars could have been and that the need of having things sorted and noted was done in the time of the Tabi'een, Namely Imam Abu Hanifa and his students. Imam Abu Hanifa was aware of the situation around him and the problems it was causing and the dangers of the fitnas that would arise from all these different opinions. It was the plan of Allah to have everything done in order of need, i.e. The Prophet(SAW), The Quran, The Hadith, The Sahaba, The Imams of Fiqh, The Imams of Hadith, etc.
Although, however, the idea of following one school was also in existance during the times of the Sahaba.
Allah nkows best the answer to Ummi Taalibs question. It would be good to find out.
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.