The scholars of Tafsir, after having made a thorough investigation into the Makki and Madani Surahs, have come up with a set of characteristics that tell right off if a Surah is Makki or Madani. Some of these characteristics are recognized as universal rules while others hold good most of the time. The universal rules are as follows:
1. Every Surah in which the word كَلَّا(never) appears is Makki. This word has been used 33 times in 15 Surahs, and all these verses are in the last half of the noble Qur’an.
2. Every Surah in which (according to the Hanafiyyah) there appears a verse of Sajdah is Makki.
3. Every Surah, with the exception of Surah al-Baqarah, in which the story of Adam and Iblis finds mention is Makki.
4. Every Surah in which a permission of jihad or a description of its injunctions has been given is Madani.
5. Every verse which mentions the hypocrites is Madani.
The following characteristics are general and mostly frequent, that is, sometimes the contrary may happen, but usually and mostly it follows the said pattern:
1. In Makki Surahs, generally, the form of address used is يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ ( O people), and in Madani Surahs
it is يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا ( O believers).
2. The Makki ‘Ayat (Verses) and Surahs are generally short and brief while the Madani verses and chapters are long and
3. The Makki Surahs mostly consist of subjects such as, Oneness of Allah, Prophethood, affirmation of the Hereafter, the panorama of the Resurrection, words of comfort for the Holy Prophet (saw) and events relating to the past communities, and in these, the number of injunctions and laws taken up is much less as compared with the Madani Surahs where family and social laws, injunctions of jihad and expositions of limits and duties appear frequently.
4. In Makki Surahs, most of the confrontation is against idolaters while in Madani Surahs it is against the people of the Book and the hypocrites.
5. The style of Makki Surahs is more majestic. It has profusion of metaphors, similes and allegories, and the vocabulary used is extensive. Contrary to this, the style of the Madani Surahs is comparatively simple.
This difference in the style of Makki and Madani Surahs initially owes its origin to a variety of conditions, circumstances and addressees. Muslims had to deal mostly with the idolaters of Arabia during their Makkan life. No Islamic state was born yet. Therefore, during this period, more emphasis was laid on the correction of beliefs, reform of morals, logical refutation of the idolaters and the miraculous nature of the noble Qur’an. Contrary to this, an Islamic state had risen in the Holy city of Madinah. People were rushing into the fold of Islam, group after group. Idolatry stood refuted intellectually. The ideological confrontation was now wholly against the people of the Book. Therefore, greater attention was paid to education in injunctions, laws, limits and duties, and on the refutation of the people of the Book. The style adopted matched these objectives.