In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
Imaam Muhammad Bin Saaleh Al-Uthaymeen [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said that from that which is obligated on a student of knowledge to comply with is that he acquires knowledge directly from the Shaikhs, for indeed he will reach -by way of that- several benefits as follows:
*The path to acquiring knowledge will be shortened for him instead of moving from one book to another whilst trying to find out the view that carries more weight (in a particular subject matter) and the reason behind it; also trying to find out the weak view in (that particular subject matter) and the reason behind it. Instead of going through all this, the teacher will give him what he seeks after through an easy path, present to him – two, three or more than three – different views of the people of knowledge together with a clarification of the view that carries more weight and the proof. Indeed, there is no doubt that this is beneficial (or advantageous) for the student.
*He will be facilitated with the ability to grasp a subject matter quickly, because when the student of knowledge reads to a scholar, he will grasp the subject matter many times quicker than when he reads books (on his own). That is because when he read books, he may come across difficult and obscure statements (or expressions), so he needs contemplation and repetition, which requires time and effort, and he may understand those statements wrongly and then act upon them.
*Close connection (or attachment) between the students of knowledge and the erudite scholars- junior people of knowledge attached to senior people of knowledge.
These are from the benefits of acquiring knowledge directly from the Shaikhs; but as mentioned earlier, it is obligated on a person to choose a scholar who is reliable, trustworthy and strong – one who has real knowledge and understanding and not superficial knowledge; truthful and firm in fulfilling what is entrusted to him and known for fulfilling acts of worship, for indeed a student follows the footsteps of his teacher. [Sharh Hilyati Taalibil Ilm. pages 105-106. slightly paraphrased].
Question to Al-Allaamah Ubaid Bin Abdillaah Al-Jaabiti [may Allaah preserve him]: Is it permissible for the one who seeks knowledge from some Shaikh – by way of books and audios – to say to him [i.e. the Shaikh], “Our Shaikh” and thus he becomes a Shaikh of his?
Answer: There’s no harm in considering someone as one’s Shaikh, but I bring your attention to the fact that there are two ways of acquiring knowledge. The first path is seeking knowledge in person and sitting to acquire knowledge from the scholar directly- sitting in his presence, learn good manners from him and good Tarbiyah. This is the ideal way and the loftiest. This is the way of the Sahaabah in acquiring knowledge from their Prophet [peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him]- those who were with him in Madeenah and those who traveled to him. They acquired knowledge directly from the Prophet and taught their people. Likewise, this is how the Taabi’oon acquired knowledge from the Sahaabah- took knowledge (directly) from the Sahaabah, especially the seniors. Likewise, those who followed the Taabi’een did the same up to this era of ours. This is the correct and loftiest path of acquiring knowledge from a Shaikh.
The second path is to acquire knowledge from books and audios. There is no harm in this and it benefits, but it does not contain that which is found in the first method; rather it is for a woman and the one who is unable because of the difficulty in reaching the Shaikh due to distance, for one may not be able to sit in the presence of a scholar even in his own country. Not all women are able-some of them are sometimes able and unable at other times, and some are not able. So, these people benefit [i.e. from the books & tapes], but also they are not advised to enter into challenging (or very difficult) issues related to differences of opinion between the scholars; rather they entrust those affairs to the people of knowledge. And whoever is a teacher – one who gives instructions in knowledge (i.e. nurtures others) or an Imaam of a Masjid in his city district or town, we advise him to be at the service of the people and that he takes those questions of theirs which he is able to answer and respond to them in his city district. And those questions that carry difference of opinion and requires investigation, he offers his services to the people by sending those questions to the people of knowledge and take answers from them. This is a good service with regards to the Muslim helping another Muslim. [paraphrased] Listen to audio here:
All praise is due to Allaah, many Salafi Masaajid and Centres either have a resident student or a student who travels to them. Do not cling to books and abandon the study circles. Do not be like those youth who frown and are filled with a sense of false independence when told to take knowledge directly from those who are known to the scholars. May Allaah protect us from self-amazement Aameen.