Specification of the Majority – Takhsis al-Akthar

In the Fiqh class of Food & Drinks, lessons 115-117 on March 21st – 23rd of 2020, the principle of Takhṣīṣ al-Akthar – Specification of the Majority – was discussed. Here I wanted to share some points summarized from those lessons. For more details, see volume 3 of Fiqh al-Aṭ‘imah wa al-Ashribah, pgs. 432-446.

The context of these lessons was that the Quran seems to have a very strong restriction (ḥaṣr) on how many items are haram to consume. The narrations on the contrary make a lot of things haram to eat. How do we then reconcile the ḥaṣr in the Quran with all the additional things that the ahadith prohibit? Some Sunni and Shi‘i scholars realized this problem and tried to come up with various reconciliations.

One of those reconciliations was that the Quran is mentioning a proposition, but the hadith come and specifically restrict the instances of that proposition. In other words, the Quran says only four things are haram to consume and everything else is halal to eat, but the hadith literature has prohibited dozens of other things. This is a case of takhṣīṣ al-akthar (تخصيص الأكثر), which many scholars believe to be a reprehensible (mustahjan) way of speaking according to ‘urf and Allah (swt) or the Divine guides cannot speak in this manner. In order to avoid this issue, many scholars had to consider the ḥaṣr in the Quran as ḥaṣr iḍāfī.1

The question is, what is this quality of reprehensibility (istihjān) that makes us say takhṣīṣ al-akthar is not possible? Does such a principle even exist? If it does, who says there is a problem with it? If this takhṣīṣ is so obvious and apparent and clear, why is it a problem? Is it rationally impossible? There is no independent discussion on this principle in the books of Uṣūl al-Fiqh, but you can find traces of it in discussions regarding the principle of Lā Ḍarar.

Some scholars have used a number of verses to show that takhṣīṣ al-akthar is to be expected:

 إِنَّ عِبَادِي لَيْسَ لَكَ عَلَيْهِمْ سُلْطَانٌ إِلَّا مَنِ اتَّبَعَكَ مِنَ الْغَاوِينَ

[15:42] you will certainly have no authority over My servants, except the deviant who follow you

قَالَ فَبِعِزَّتِكَ لَأُغْوِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ * إِلَّا عِبَادَكَ مِنْهُمُ الْمُخْلَصِينَ

[15:42] Satan said, “By Your Glory! I will certainly mislead them all, except Your chosen servants among them.”

وَمَن يَرْغَبُ عَن مِّلَّةِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ إِلَّا مَن سَفِهَ نَفْسَهُ

[2:130] And who would reject the faith of Abraham except a fool! We certainly chose him in this life, and in the Hereafter he will surely be among the righteous.

أَفَأَمِنُوا مَكْرَ اللَّهِ فَلا يَأْمَنُ مَكْرَ اللَّهِ إِلا الْقَوْمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ

[7:99] Did they feel secure against Allah’s planning? None would feel secure from Allah’s planning except the losers.

These Quranic verses show us takhṣīṣ al-akthar is not problematic, especially in Allah’s wisdom.

Furthermore, in some places takhṣīṣ al-akthar is not reprehensible at all. For example, a person can say, “Respect the righteous scholars” and then do takhṣīṣ by saying, “Do not respect transgressors.” This is not reprehensible, aS such statements are essentially trying to say that the criterion for respect is justice.

Sayyid Khū’ī (his students and also their students) say takhṣīṣ al-akthar is reprehensible only when the proposition is al-qaḍīyya al-khārijīyya, not if it is al-qaḍīyya al-ḥaqīqīyyah, which is what most of the Sharī‘ah is based upon and whose subject matter is often muqaddar al-wujūd. In that case, since there is no exact number by which you can say something becomes an instance of takhṣīṣ al-akthar, there is no way to cite reprehensibility as an argument against it.2

Overall, this critique is essentially saying there is no such principle, and if there do happen to be some cases, they are very rare. Let us analyze this principle a little as it is very important and used in other discussions too (like discussions of Ṣawm for example):

1. The claim that most scholars have allowed the occurrence of takhṣīṣ al-akthar is not true. After investigating, we saw that most later scholars accepted the notion that takhṣīṣ al-akthar is reprehensible and not allowed. In fact, Ḥabībullah Kashānī in his al-Mustaqṣā and Sayyid Borujerdī in his al-Hashiyah on al-Kifāyah say this was the view of the majority.

2. The phrase takhṣīṣ al-akthar, or ikhrāj al-akthar has not appeared in the Quran or hadith for us to then investigate its prima-facie and see what it means linguistically or what ‘urf understands from this phrase. We are not in front of a textual naṣṣ, rather we are in front of a conversational phenomenon – what does ‘urf think about this phenomenon in their day-to-day speech? This is what matters to us.

3. What is that element that makes takhṣīṣ al-akthar problematic? When we pay attention, we realize the issue is rooted in the concept of laghw – irrelevance or vainness – or inappropriateness; meaning such speech is not in accordance with how people with common sense (‘uqalā’) convey meanings. There is no rational reprehensibility (al-qubḥ al-‘aqlī) to it, rather it is ‘uqalāyī.

This is particularly true in case of legislation. For example, if a school principal demands all students to respect all ten teachers at a school, except two then the principal will say: “Respect the teachers of the school, except Zayd and Bakr.” However, if the principal were to say: “Do not respect the teachers of the school, except Khālid, Ibrāhīm, Sa‘īd, Muḥammad, Maḥmūd, ‘Alī, Jābir and ‘Amr,” then this is considered an unwise way of conversing and an incorrect way to conveying a message.

This means, if we say God or the infallibles can do takhṣīṣ al-akthar, we are implying that they can speak in a way which is against the conventions of people, unwise, and without any justification.

4. According to points 2 and 3, it is not universally reprehensible to do takhṣīṣ al-akthar. Rather takhṣīṣ which happens to be reprehensible (mustahjan) is problematic. To illustrate with an example:

If there are 10 teachers, and six need to be respected, you can say “Do not respect the teachers, except these six” – this is not always going to be reprehensible. But if one needs to be respected and you say “respect all the teachers, except these nine” then this may be seen as reprehensible. This is a subjective and relative principle, not a rational principle. It all depends on ‘urf.

Based on this, we have to look at the instances where takhṣīṣ al-akthar has occurred and then determine whether ‘urf sees it as reprehensible or not. In some circumstances it may not be mustahjan, rather for one reason or another it may be necessary to do takhṣīṣ al-akthar.

5. In our discussions on alcohol and intoxication, we said takhṣīṣ al-akthar is not problematic in takhṣīṣ which is connected (muttaṣilah), rather only when it is disconnected (munfaṣilah). When there is a connection, people are generally fine with it. For example, if someone says, “Respect the teachers who are scholars, righteous and over the age of seventy”, though the adjectives all restrict the number of teachers that ought to be respected, this statement is not considered reprehensible by people.

However, if one were to say, “Respect the teachers,” then in different times and circumstances they point out who one should not respect and restrict the number of teachers to a trivial amount, this is what is considered reprehensible.

Therefore, verses that were mentioned earlier are all takhṣīṣ which are connected, not disconnected. This is a point that Shahīd al-Ṣadr has alluded to this as well.3

Although this point is generally correct, we do not think it is absolutely correct. This is because, even if the takhṣīṣ is connected, there seems to be a difference in how people perceive this takhṣīṣ when it is presented in the form of adjectives and adverbs, as opposed to exclusions and exceptions. In other words, there is a difference between saying: “Respect all the teachers who are scholars and righteous”, versus, “Respect all the scholars, except those who are non-Arabs, transgressors, and under five-feet.” The latter could still be considered a reprehensible form of takhṣīṣ by people.

This shows that the nature of takhṣīṣ which is connected, itself plays a role in what people perceive to be reprehensible. It is more than likely the case that when takhṣīṣ is done with adjectives, people do not assume that the subject of discussion was initially presented as an absolute which was then later restricted, whereas in the case of making exceptions in a propositions, a listener does first hear a subject being mentioned in absolute terms, followed by exceptional clauses.

As per this, let us look at two of the verses cited earlier again:

 إِنَّ عِبَادِي لَيْسَ لَكَ عَلَيْهِمْ سُلْطَانٌ إِلَّا مَنِ اتَّبَعَكَ مِنَ الْغَاوِينَ

[15:42] you will certainly have no authority over My servants, except the deviant who follow you

قَالَ فَبِعِزَّتِكَ لَأُغْوِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْمَعِينَ * إِلَّا عِبَادَكَ مِنْهُمُ الْمُخْلَصِينَ

[15:42] Satan said, “By Your Glory! I will certainly mislead them all, except Your chosen servants among them.”

The first verse is not reprehensible because the exceptional clause indicates Satan will not have control over servants who are not deviant, and the second verse is not reprehensible because it is speaking about what Satan intends on doing with the unchosen servants. In the second verse there is no takhṣīṣ al-akthar to begin with, because the chosen ones are in fact a minority, whereas the first verse is not clarifying the number of servants over which Satan will have no authority, rather it is informing us about a principle and rule. The rule dictates: Satan will not have control over servants of Allah, except those servants who themselves follow Satan in his deviant ways and decide to grant him authority over themselves.

6. Sayyid Kāẓim al-Ḥā’irī says takhṣīṣ al-akthar does not occur if the concept and meaning of the generic word being used is gradational. If someone says, “respect the scholars”, and then later says, “I meant the jurists” – which are fewer in quantity – then this is not reprehensible because the concept of scholars is a gradational concept.4

What al-Ḥā’irī says aids us in our point, that there is no universal principle here, and the example he gives shows us that customs can differ over what is reprehensible or not in some cases. Let us alter the example of al-Ḥā’irī as follows: “Respect the scholars” and then later on we may say, “Do not respect anyone except an expert and the most learned in every field and discipline,” and assume that the word ‘scholars’ in one custom is a generic term and not restricted to an expert – jurist – only, then in this situation this would be a case of takhṣīṣ al-akthar and reprehensible.

All of this shows us that scholars and legal theorists all realized there were cases where a takhṣīṣ would feel reprehensible to them, while in other cases it would not feel reprehensible. This further solidifies our point that this is a very relative matter and a lot of different variables are at play, such as the topic, sentence structure, context etc.

7. Shahīd al-Ṣadr has said there is no problem of doing takhṣīṣ of one category or multiple categories. For example, if you say “Respect the scholars”, and then say “Do not respect X, Y, Z,” it does not really matter, because what is relevant is the practical consequence of this exception and restriction.

This point raised by Shahid al-Ṣadr is also generally true and correct. In other words, if someone says, “Respect all the astronomers”, but then says, “Do not respect any astronomer except Iraqi astronomers”, then this is reprehensible (assuming there are almost no Iraqi astronomers) as practically speaking the first proposition demanding respect for astronomers is a moot-point with no practical consequences.

8. A number of scholars – such as Shaykh Anṣāri, Ākhund Khorasānī – have said that takhṣīṣ which is reprehensible is that which is done on a category, not on an instance.

For example, if you say “Respect scholars”, then say “Do not respect the sinful scholars, do not respect scholars of syntax, do not respect scholars of morphology,” etc. until you exclude dozens of categories of scholars, and assume only four or five categories of scholars are left then this is reprehensible.

However, if the quantitative instances of scholars under each of those categories excluded were so little, and the quantity remaining in the last four or five categories of scholars is a significant amount, then that is not generally considered reprehensible by society.

This point is also generally correct, but not absolutely and universally correct. Consider the example, “Respect all the jurists of law,” followed by, “Do not respect male jurists,” then this is not an example where takhṣīṣ al-akthar has occurred on multiple categories. Nevertheless, from external reality we know that the physical instances of male scholars are such a significant amount compared to female jurists, that there will be no one left to respect.

In conclusion, it is not appropriate to restrict reprehensibility of takhṣīṣ al-akthar to just the number of categories, rather once again, the criterion appears to be what society and people in any given custom seem to perceive.

9. If takhṣīṣ al-akthar which happens to be reprehensible does end up occurring in a text that has come down to us, and we deny its possible occurrence from God or an infallible, what are its consequences?

The consequence is that you have an unresolved contradiction between a generic (‘ām) statement and a specific (khāṣṣ) statement. This is because either the generic statement was said and the specific statement that results in takhṣīṣ al-akthar was not said, or the exceptions were indeed uttered, but the generic statement was not made at all or was not originally uttered in the way that it results in reprehensibility. In this situation, we will have to refer back to the preference indicators (murajjiḥāt), and if none of those are applicable, it will result in tasāquṭ.

10. What Sayyid Khū’ī and some of his students have mentioned regarding al-qāḍiya al-khārijīyyah not being reprehensible, unlike al-qaḍīya al-ḥāqīqīyyah, then that is also problematic. I believe this is a completely fallacious approach since the discussion has nothing to do with knowing the quantity of instances that are being excluded. Rather the entire discussion is about how people speak and communicate, and how they convey meanings.


Even though some have tried to argue that takhṣīṣ al-akthar is justified since we are merely dealing with conventional matters, not rational matters, and that the principle does not exist, we believe that there are definitely some exceptions that do exist. However, this does not mean that the entire principle is pointless. It is better to say that just like the principle is not always universally applicable, it is also not universally inapplicable. There are times where society will consider takhṣīṣ al-akthar reprehensible, and at times they will not.

If the entities being restricted and excluded reach a certain point, or the way in which a point is conveyed, leads to irrelevance – laghw – of the generic statement, or the rational common people of society consider it reprehensible, in that case we say takhṣīṣ al-akthar is wrong and not wise.


  1. See for example, Miṣbaḥ al-Huda fī Sharḥ al-‘Urwah al-Wuthqa, vol. 1, pg. 363; Madārik al-‘Urwah, vol. 2, pg. 116; Jāmi‘ al-Madārik, vol. 5, pg. 174.
  2. Miṣbāḥ al-Uṣūl, vol. 2, pg. 537-538
  3. Kitāb al-Tahārah, vol. 1, pg. 392-393.
  4. Mabāḥith al-Uṣūl, vol. 2, pg. 237.