In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
Imaam Muhammad Bin Saaleh Al-Uthaymeen [may Allaah have mercy upon him] stated: One of the affairs obligated on a student of knowledge to comply with is that he acquires knowledge directly from the Shaikhs, because he will reach -by way of that- several benefits as follows:
a: 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, and 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.
b: 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, so he needs contemplation and repetition, which requires time and effort, and he may understand those statements wrongly and then act upon them.
c: Close association 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. (1)
The Imaam [may Allaah have mercy upon him] also stated that a person should learn the fundamentals and establish his knowledge on sound fundamental principles – the Qur’aan and the Sunnah etc. A person should not approach knowledge, whilst intending to acquire everything at once because that is not possible; rather one should acquire knowledge little by little. Likewise, one should not rely solely on books and his personal efforts, rather one should have a reliable Shaikh- one who is reliable in his understanding and is trustworthy- because the Shaikh who teaches you has already studied, taught, revised and understood. The Shaikh also mentioned that students have different abilities, and some might be able to study more advanced books -under a Shaikh- than others. Likewise, the path followed in the path of seeking knowledge under the scholars vary depending on where a person is residing, and the method adopted by the scholars of that country. (2)
Al-Allaamah Saaleh Al-Fawzaan [may Allaah preserve him]:
Learning from books without referring to the scholars! This is a path of deviation, and many have deviated because of it. He (i.e. the person) will either misunderstand what is in the books or understands in a way other than what is intended because it has not been explained and made clear to him. The author (of the book) may be deviated in his views or knowledge and fills it (i.e. the book) with mistakes in affairs of knowledge. Then this ignorant youth reads and adopts it. Therefore, the books are not to be solely depended upon. And even if the books are sound, you will not be able to understand by merely seeking after it (i.e. reading). The khawaarij were not misguided and misguiding others with their intellects and fear of Allaah, except that they disassociated themselves from the scholars and depended on their own understanding and that of those like them. They took instructions from one another, and thus they caused harm to themselves and to the Ummah. This is the result for disassociating from the scholars. (3)
Imaam Al-Bukhaari [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said: “A man will not become well facilitated until he takes knowledge from one above him, one similar to him and one below him.” (4)
Imaam Abdullaah Ibnul Mubaarak [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said: “A man will not be from the (students or scholars) of Hadeeth until he writes from someone similar to him, someone above him and someone below him.” (5)
Imaam Sufyaan Ibn Uyaynah [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said: “A man will not be from the (students or scholars) of Hadeeth until he takes from someone above him, someone below him and someone similar to him.” (6)
Al-Allaamah Rabee Bin Haadee Al-Madkhalee [may Allaah preserve him] said: Musa [peace be upon him] was spoken to directly by Allaah and the Tawraat was revealed to him, which contained Hudaa [i.e. that which guides a person to Eemaan, truth and protects one from misguidance] and Noor [i.e. a guiding light in the midst of the darkness of ignorance, confusion, doubts, beliefs and deeds that appear to be truth but are falsehood in reality and evil desires], but when he knew that another person possessed knowledge of that which he did not possess, [Allaah informed us he (Musa) said]:
[لَا أَبْرَحُ حَتَّىٰ أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِيَ حُقُبًا – I will not give up (travelling) until I reach the junction of the two seas or (until) I spend years and years in travelling]. [Surah Al-Kahf. Verse 60]
He went on foot – neither had a car nor a riding beast, nor a horse; (rather) he travelled on foot”. (7)
[Ref 1: Sharh Hilyati Taalibil Ilm. pages 105-106. slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 2: Sharh Hilyati Taalibil Ilm. page 77 onwards. Slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 3: Tawjeehaat Mihimmah Li-Shaab Al-Ummah. Page 7]
[Ref 4: Quoted by Shaikh Abdullah Al-Bukhaari in Sharh Umdatul Ahkaam. Lesson 1]
[Ref 5: Taareekh Baghdaad by Al-Khateeb Al-Baghdaadee 5/68]
[Ref 6: Al-Jaami Li-Akhlaaq Ar-Raawee 2/218]
[Ref 7: Marhaban Yaa Taalibal Ilm. 245-248. Slightly paraphrased]