It was always interesting to hear or read at the start of an explanation about a Surah whether it was Makki or Madani Surah. Today, we wish to learn and explore more on this topic.
The Quran was sent down from al-Lawh al-Mahfuz (the Preserved Tablet) to the first heaven on Laylat al-Qadr in the month of Ramadan all at once, then after that it was sent down to the Prophet ﷺ in stages over the span of the twenty-three years of his blessed Prophethood.
What's generally understood about this is that the Surahs revealed in Makkah are Makki and those in Madinah are Madani. This is a slight misconception. The basis of classification as per the scholars of tafseer is not the city of revelation but rather the hijrah of the Prophet ﷺ.
Makki surahs are those that were revealed in Makkah and any time before the hijrah even if it was revealed outside of Makkah. At this stage, the Prophet ﷺ rarely left Makkah except for Taif so most of the revelation was confined to within Makkah. These are those ayat that were revealed in the Makkan era of the Prophet's ﷺ life that lasted for 10 years.
Madani Surahs are those that were revealed in Madinah and after the hijrah even if they were revealed in Makkah or outside of Madinah. There are many instances of ayat being revealed outside of Madinah as there were many trips and battles in this period. These are those ayat that were revealed in the Madinan era of the Prophet's ﷺ life that lasted for 13 years.
From this we learn that when we use the term Makki or Madani for a Surah, the ayat were not explicitly revealed in the cities of Makkah or Madinah alone. So the ayat that were revealed during the Prophet’s ﷺ initial visit to Taif etc are Makki. Even the ayat that were revealed to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم during the Night Journey aka Isra wal Mi’raj are considered Makki. Those ayat that were revealed in Hudaybiyah, so near to Makkah and even those ayat revealed in Makkah itself during the conquest of Makkah are considered as Madani. There could be cases where Makki ayat occur in Madani surahs and Madani surahs in Makki surahs. The Prophet ﷺ instructed his companions and scribes on the exact placement of the ayat across the different Surahs and the order of the Surahs in the Quran.
The Quran comprises of 85 or 86 Makki Surahs and 28 or 29 Madani Surahs. There is a slight difference of opinion on this number. Imam Ibn Sa’d recorded that Ibn Abbas رضي الله عنه said, "I asked Ubayy ibn Ka’b about which surahs of the Qur’an were sent down in al-Madinah. He said, “Twenty-nine surahs were revealed there, and the rest were revealed in Makkah.” [al-Tabaqat]
Scholars of Tafseer have consensus (ijma) on 80 Surahs being Makki and 22 Surahs being Madani. There is difference of opinion on 12 Surahs.
The Madani Surahs are: al-Baqarah, Aal Imran, al-Nisa, al-Maidah, al-Anfal, at-Tawbah, an-Nur, al-Ahzab, al-Qital, al-Fath, al-Hujurat, al-Hadeed, al-Mujadilah, al-Hashr, al-Mumtahina, al-Saff, al-Jumuah, al-Munafiqun, al-Taghabun, al-Talaq, al-Tahreem, and an-Nasr.
Our Sheikh Nabeel as-Sindhi حفظه الله said, "Juzz Amma alone that houses mostly Makki Surahs has more surahs than all Madani surahs put together even though the Madani surahs may be longer. We see that except for al-An'am all the Surahs from the 'Al-Sab’u al-Tiwal' (first 7 surahs) are Madani." [Sharh Muqaddimat Ibn Juzayy]
The Disputed Surahs are: al-Fatihah, ar-Ra'd, al-Nahl, al-Hajj, al-Insan, al-Mutaffifin, al-Qadr, al-Zalzalah, al-Ma'un, al-Ikhlas, al-Falqa, al-Nas.
The rest of the Surahs other than these are all considered Makki Surahs.
Sheikh Nabeel as-Sindhi حفظه الله said, "Most of the scholars classify Umm al-Quran as a Makki surah since the salah was obligated in Makkah and the Prophet used to pray even before that. Rather, it is said that it is one of the earliest surahs and the the first surah to be revealed in completion. Some scholar said it was revealed twice but there is no such thing as double revelation of the same Surah. The Prophet ﷺ could have mentioned ayat in response to the Jews that were similar to the doubts raised by the pagans in Makkah. But this does not mean that the ayat were revealed twice." [Sharh Muqaddimat Ibn Juzayy]
The Sheikh also mentions that based on the analysis of the themes of the disputed surahs we could conclude that ar-Ra'd, al-Nahl, al-Insan, al-Zalzalah, al-Ikhlas, and al-Mu'awwidhatayn are Makki Surahs while they might have some ayat that are Madani. The other surahs are considered Madani. Surah al-Hajj has a mix of both Makki and Madani ayat. It is the first place that Allah revealed about Jihad. It is narrated from Ibn Abbas that Surah al-Mutaffifin is considered to be one of the first surahs to be revealed in Madinah as it has ayat related to trade and this is addressed to traders that were dishonest in their measurements.
Differentiating Between Makki and Madani Surahs
al-Qadhi Abu Bakr رحمه الله wrote, "When it comes to knowing what is Makki and Madani, then our only point of reference is the recordings of the Sahaba and Tabi’un as there is nothing on this subject transmitted directly from the Prophet ﷺ. That is because he was not commanded to speak on that subject, and Allah did not make this field of knowledge something obligatory for every member of this ummah, although some knowledge of it is necessary for the scholars in order to know the timeline of abrogating and abrogated verses, as that is something that can be known without an explicit text from the Messenger." [al-Intisar]
Ibn Mas’ud رضي الله عنه said, "I swear by the One besides whom there is none worthy of worship, there is not a single ayah in Allah’s Book except that I know who is was revealed about and where it was revealed." [Bukhari]
Scholars have put together these key identifiers to differentiate the Surahs being Makki or Madani. These are not definite or set in stone classifications but efforts (ijtihad) put in by scholars to try and make this knowledge easy to access for students. Some of these are:
1. The Makkan Surahs are usually shorter and deal mainly with affirming the Oneness of Allah aka Tawheed. These ayat have a powerful style that addresses the reader strongly and instils faith and hope for those who believe. They also focused on beautifying the character of the believer. Ex: Surah al-Qamar. The Madani Surahs are generally longer and deal mainly with action or the implementation of Shariah laws. The ayat are are mostly gentle in their style of addressing the reader. Ex: Surah al-Ma'idah.
2. The Makkan Surahs have words that are at times seen to be unique because of their poetic structure. This is because the people being addressed were those proficient in the Arabic language and poetry. This is something the Makkans used to highly pride themselves in. People used to come from around Arabia to compete during Hajj in poetry sessions etc. There is a heavy focus on smilies, metaphorical constructions, imagery, and much more in Makki surahs. When the Quran was read to them, the people were awed as it was nothing similar to what they had heard. This is why we see some even went ahead and called it magic or enchanting speech. Madani Surahs on the other hand are quite clear and easy to understand. The Madani ayat touches the heart and leaves a deep impact. The people of Madinah also had Jews living among them who were being addressed and the level of Arabic proficiency here was not as high. The majesty of the Quran's eloquence is seen here as to how it changes its structure and tone based on who is being addressed and what is the best way to do so.
3. Makkan Surahs are generally pertaining to Prophetic stories, while the Madani Surahs deal with the realisation and fulfilment of prophecies and promises.
4. Makkan Surahs emphasize on Banu Adam’s relationship with Allah. It also focuses on establishing the Message and speaking about resurrection and the Day of Judgment. The Madani Surahs emphasize on Banu Adam’s relationship with fellow man and lay down rules and regulations for social and moral conduct. Legal laws like those of marriage, divorce, inheritance, transactions, and guidance on governance etc among other matters were revealed in Madani surahs.
5. Knowing the difference between Makki and Madani Surahs opens a lot of doors for the reader to ponder over. The fact that the styles of addressing in the Quran are different in Makkah and Madinah gives us an indication on how to treat, teach and give dawah to people based on their level of understanding and belief. It will also help in learning more and giving a better context and a deeper understanding of where, about whom, and about what the ayat were revealed. This is greater than Asbab al-Nuzul that is restricted to the ayat whereas this is more comprehensive. This should also push us to read the Seerah even more so that it helps us in understanding the Quran better. It also helps us in recognising that the eloquence of the Qur’an is at the highest peak,
Our Sheikh Dr.Sajid Umar حفظه الله said, "The Makki and Madani ayat teach us: Know the right time and place to give advice. Be time appropriate in your approach. Don't speak just for the sake of it. Have purpose in life, don't do things just for the sake of doing something. Don't waste your and other people's time. Mean what you speak and speak what you mean. If you are actually going to speak, then make sure you mean what you say. Allah revealed that which was audience appropriate. Understand the level of your audience and address them according to that. Don't overwhelm them with information their heart is not ready to accept. Build it till love for Allah is manifest in their hearts."
From an academic point of view knowing the difference between Makki and Madani ayat will also be very helpful in determining the nasikh (abrogating) and mansukh (abrogated) ayat in the Quran. When two ayat that seem to be opposite of each other are seen, it can easily be understood that the one that was revealed before (for instance Makki ayah) is nasikh and the other one is mansukh.
Although all the Makkan ayat were revealed before the hijrah, they were neither memorized nor written in the same order of which they were revealed. Some ayat were revealed at short intervals and sometimes an entire Surah was revealed all at once. Our Prophet ﷺ would tell his scribes to write the ayat in the Surah to which it belonged. If a new Surah was revealed, he would recite the Surah in the order it was to be recorded. Once the Madani ayat began to be revealed, the Prophet ﷺ would tell his companions to place them before or after certain Makkan ayat. Though there are Surahs which could be Madani but have a few ayat that are Makki in them and vice versa. A Surah is classified Makki or Madani based on the majority of the ayat therein.
In summary, it can be said:
1. Every Surah in which the word كٓلآّ (never) appears is Makki. This word has been used 33 times in 15 Surahs and all these ayat are in the last half of the Quran.
2. Every Surah in which a sajdah appears is Makki. This is used as an evidence for considering Surahs al-Hajj and ar-Ra'd as Makki surahs.
3. Every Surah except Surah al-Baqarah in which the story of Adam and Iblis is mentioned is Makki.
4. Every Surah in which the permission of Jihad or a description of its injunctions have been given is Madani.
5. Every Surah that begins by Allah swearing upon something is Makki. Ex: Surah ad-Duha.
6. All ayat which mention hypocrites is Madani.
7. In Makki Surahs, generally the form of address used is ياايّهاالناس (O People) while in Madani Surahs it is ياايّهاالذين آمنوا (O Believers). Imam Ibn Juzayy says that ياايّهاالناس (O People) can be used for Madani surahs as well.
8. The ayat of Makki Surahs are generally short and brief whereas the Madani ayat are long and detailed.
9. The Makki Surahs generally consist of subjects pertaining to Tawheed, Prophethood, the Hereafter, and words of comfort for the Prophet ﷺ by narrating incidents from the past. Madani Surahs generally consist of family and social laws, injunctions of Jihad and details of legislations.
10. 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.
11. The style of Makki Surahs is more majestic. It has a profusion of metaphors, smilies, and the vocabulary used is extensive. The style of Madani Surahs is comparatively simple as it is more lengthy and detailed.
12. The idolaters of Makkah were worshipping idols in the belief that these hand-crafted “gods” would act as an intermediary between them and Allah. The Makki ayat were aimed at clarifying this misconception of intermediaries.
An Ayah: Neither Makki nor Madani
There is one ayah that is neither Makki nor Madani. This is because it was revealed during the hijrah of the Prophet ﷺ. All ayat in the Quran are either Makki or Madani except Ayah 85 of Surah al-Qasas.
إِنَّ ٱلَّذِى فَرَضَ عَلَيْكَ ٱلْقُرْءَانَ لَرَآدُّكَ إِلَىٰ مَعَادٍۢ قُل رَّبِّىٓ أَعْلَمُ مَن جَآءَ بِٱلْهُدَىٰ وَمَنْ هُوَ فِى ضَلَـٰلٍۢ مُّبِينٍۢ
Indeed, (O Muhammad), He who imposed upon you the Qur’an will take you back to a place of return. Say, “My Lord best knows the one who has come with guidance and the one who is in manifest error.”
Sura al-Qasas itself is considered Makki with the exception of this ayah. Ayah 85 and the accompanying ayat of this Surah are important because Allah narrated in detail the story of Prophet Musa علیہ السلام with the Pharaoh, his enmity with Bani Israel, their fears and how he overpowered the people of the Pharaoh. These were coming at a time where there was a bounty placed on the head of the Messenger and he was forced to migrate from his hometown.
Ibn Abbas رضي الله عنه explained that Ma'ad in this ayah refers to Makkah, as reported in Sahih al-Bukhari. So, the meaning of the sentence is that although the Prophet ﷺ would have to leave his hometown, especially the Haram for a short while, he would be brought back in Makkah by Allah.
The Imam of Tafsir, Muqatil, has narrated that during the Hijrah from Makkah to Madinah, the Prophet ﷺ came out from the cave of Thawr at night, and by passing the conventional route, treaded the unfamiliar paths, because the enemies were pursuing him. When he reached Juhfah, which was a well-known place on the way to Madinah near Rabigh, and where the conventional route to Madinah separates from that of Makkah, at that time he glanced back toward the route of Makkah and remembered his hometown.
At that moment, the Angel Jibreel descended with this ayah, in which he was given the good tiding that separation from Makkah was temporary and he would return there soon. That was in fact the advance news of the Conquest of Makkah. It is in this background that Ibn Abbas has observed in a narration that this verse was revealed in Juhfah, and that it is neither Makki nor Madani.
We do have another opinion from scholars who do classify it as Makki. Why? Uthman ibn Sa’eed al-Daarimi رحمه الله brought a chain of narration going back to Yahyah ibn Salam who said, "Whatever was revealed in Makkah or on the road to al-Madinah prior to the Prophet ﷺ reaching al-Madinah is Makki, and whatever was revealed to the Prophet during any of his journeys after having reached al-Madinah is Madani." From this we learn that whatever was revealed during the Hijrah is classified as Makki.
Remembering The Difference
In his book, al-Nasikh wa’l-Mansukh, Imam Abu’l Hassan Ibn al-Hassar رحمه الله said, “There are 20 surahs which are agreed to be Madani, 12 that are differed over, and the rest are Makki by consensus.” He then presented this information in some lines of poetry that have been translated by Sheikh Abu’l-Yaman Khalil (Tulayhah) below:
يا سائلي عن كتاب الله مجتهدا وعن ترتيب ما يتلى من السور وكيف جاء بها المختار من مضر
صلى الإله على المختار من مضر وما تقدم منها قبل هجرته وما تأخر
في بدو وفي حضر ليعلم النسخ والتخصيص مجتهد يؤيد الحكم بالتاريخ
والنظر تعارض النقل في أم الكتاب وقد تؤولت الحجر تنبيها لمعتبر
أم القران وفي أم القرى نزلت ما كان للخمس قبل الحمد من أثر
ـ [ ص: 61 ] وبعد هجرة خير الناس قد نزلت عشرون من سور القرآن في عشر
فأربع من طوال السبع أولها وخامس الخمس في الأنفال ذي العبر
وتوبة الله إن عدت فسادسة وسورة النور والأحزاب ذي الذكر
وسورة لنبي الله محكمة والفتح والحجرات الغر في غرر ثم الحديد
ويتلوها مجادلة والحشر ثم امتحان الله للبشر وسورة فضح الله النفاق
بها وسورة الجمع تذكار لمدكر وللطلاق وللتحريم حكمهما والنصر
والفتح تنبيها على العمر هذا الذي اتفقت فيه الرواة له وقد تعارضت
الأخبار في أخر فالرعد مختلف فيها متى نزلت
وأكثر الناس قالوا الرعد كالقمر ومثلها سورة الرحمن شاهدها مما تضمن
قول الجن في الخبر وسورة للحواريين قد علمت ثم التغابن والتطفيف
ذو النذر وليلة القدر قد خصت بملتنا ولم يكن بعدها الزلزال
فاعتبر وقل هو الله من أوصاف خالقنا وعوذتان ترد البأس بالقدر
وذا الذي اختلفت فيه الرواة له وربما استثنيت آي من السور
وما سوى ذاك مكي تنزله فلا تكن من خلاف الناس في حصر
فليس كل خلاف جاء معتبرا إلا خلاف له حظ من النظر
O you who is asking about the Book of Allah, seeking to know the order of its surahs
and how to choose the right position from the wrong
Ask Allah to help you know the right from wrong;
which parts came before the Hijrah and which parts came later on
as well as what was revealed in the country or the city, in order to know what was abrogated
or later specified, as the judge refines his skills with some knowledge of history
One finds conflicting reports about surah al-Fatihah
but surah al-Hijr leads us to know what is correct
Umm al-Qur’an (al-Fatihah) was revealed in Umm al-Qurra (Makkah)
and the Basmallah before al-Hamdulillaah is not a part of the surah
After the hijrah of the best of creation
twenty surahs were revealed over the course of ten years
Four of the Seven Long surahs are the first of them
Then the fifth of five is surah al-Anfal with its striking verses
Then, if treating surah al-Tawbah as its own surah, it is the sixth
Then comes surah al-Noor and surah al-Ahzab
Then the clear surah Muhammad, then al-Fath
Then al-Hujurat and al-Hadeed
Following that is al-Mujadalah, then al-Hashr
Then al-Mumtahinah and surah al-Munafiqun
Then al-Jumu’ah, then al-Talaaq and al-Tahreem
and then al-Nasr, which alerted the Prophet to his impending death
These are the surahs that are agreed to be Madani
But there have been differing reports regarding some others
There are disagreements as to when surah al-Ra’d was revealed
but most say that it is Makki, and likewise with al-Rahman
As evidenced by what the Jinn said about it
Likewise with al-Saff, as you know, and then al-Taghabun and the warnings of al-Mutaffifun
Surah al-Qadr and its special promise for this ummah
as well as al-Bayyinah and al-Zalzalah – which you should take as a warning!
Also there is al-Ikhlas, a surah describing our Creator
and al-Falaq and al-Nas, repelling harm as decreed
Those are the surahs with conflicting narrations
and perhaps within surahs there are ayat that are exceptions
And everything else that was revealed is Makki
with no disagreements about that position
And not every disagreement is worthy of consideration
only those disagreements which stand on a good foundation
Dividing The Quran Into Different Sections
The Quran is categorised into 4 major sections. This is based on the narration of Wathilah bin al-Asqa’ who narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said,
أُعْطِيتُ مَكَانَ التَّوْرَاةِ السَّبْعَ وَأُعْطِيتُ مَكَانَ الزَّبُورِ الْمَئِينَ وَأُعْطِيتُ مَكَانَ الْإِنْجِيلِ الْمَثَانِيَ وَفُضِّلْتُ بِالْمُفَصَّلِ
“I was given Al-Sab’a Al-Tiwal to replace the Torah. I am also given Al-Miin to replace the Zabur. And I am also given Al-Mathani to replace the Bible. I am blessed more with Al-Mufassal.” [Ahmad]
The first category of al-Sab’u al-Tiwal refers to the seven long surahs which are: al-Baqarah, Aal Imran, al-Ma'idah, al-Nisa, al-An’am, al-Anfal, and at-Tawbah.
The second category of al-Miin refers to the surahs with a hundred or so ayat. These are: Yunus, Hud, Yusuf, al-Isra’, al-Kahf, TaHa, al-Anbiya, al-Qasas and al-Hajj.
The third category of al-Mathani refers to surahs where the total ayat are less than a hundred.
The fourth category of al-Mufassal is the category after al-Mathani that starts from Surah al-Qaf to the end. It is named as al-Mafassal as there are many 'Al-Fasl' or division between the surahs by the basmalah.
al-Mufassal itself was further divided into three sections. These are:
The first section consists of long (Al-Tiwal) surahs: From Surah al-Qaf to Surah an-Naba.
The second section consists of the mid-range (Al-Awsat) surahs: From Surah an-Naba to Surah ad-Duha.
The third section consists of the short (Al-Qisar) surahs: From Surah ad-Duha to Surah al-Nas.
From analysing different narrations we find that the Prophet ﷺ usually used to recite from:
- al-Tiwal al-Mufassal for the Fajr Salah
- Awsat al-Mufassal for the Dhuhr Salah
- Awsat al-Mufassal for the Asr Salah
- Qisar al-Mufassal for the Maghrib Salah
- Awsat al-Mufassal for the Isha Salah
In terms of recitation and memorisation the sahaba used to break the Quran into 7 parts as we learn from the narration of Aws Ibn Hudahifah as was recorded by Imam Abu Dawud and others.
Imam Ibn Kathir recorded that Aws said: I asked the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ): How do you divide the Qur’an for daily recitation? They said: Three, five, eleven, thirteen, and the mufassal surahs.
The 3 on the first day of the week are: al-Baqarah, Aal Imran, and al-Nisa
The 5 on second day of the week are: al-Ma’idah, al-An’am, al-A’raf al-Anfal and at-Tawbah
The 7 on the third day of the week are: Yunus, Hud, Yusuf, al-Ra’d, Ibrahim, al-Hijr, al-Nahl
The 9 on the fourth day of the week are: al-Isra’, al-Kahf, Maryam, TaHa, al-Anbiyah, al-Hajj, al-Mu’minun, al-Nur, and al-Furqan
The 11 on the fifth day of the week are: ash-Shu’ara, al-Naml, al-Qasas, al-Ankabut, al-Rum, Luqman, Sajdah, al-Ahzab, Saba', Faatir, and YaSin
The 13 on the sixth day of the week are: al-Saffaat, Saad, al-Zumar, Ghafir, Fussilat, ash-Shurah, al-Zukhruf al-Dhukkhan al-Jathiyah, al-Ahqaf, al-Qital, al-Fath, and al-Hujurat
Then after that comes the Mufassal section (Surah Qaf to Surah al-Nas), just as the sahabah said, may Allah be pleased with them. So therefore it is clear that the first of the mufassal surahs is Qaf, as we have stated – and to Allah belongs the praise. [Tafsir Ibn Kathir]
An easy way of memorising this breakdown is by remembering the phrase:
ف = al-Fatihah
م = al-Ma'idah
ي = Yunus
ب = Bani Isarel or al-Isra'
ش = ash-Shu'ara
و = Wa as-Saffat
ق = Qaf
Why is the Quran divided into Surahs? Imam al-Zarkashi رحمه الله said, "The wisdom in the chapters of the Quran is establishing that the surahs by themselves are standalone miracles of Allah. Furthermore, the shorter and longer surahs show that it is not length that gives it its miraculous virtue. Surah al-Kawthar though consisting of only three ayat is as miraculous as Surah al-Baqarah.
Another wisdom in this is the angle of learning this noble book. Children are taken from shorter surahs to lengthier surahs gradually; a mercy unto mankind from Allah. As they complete a chapter, they reach a milestone which gives them joy. Similarly, one reciting lengthy portions of the Qur’an gains fervour to carry on after reaching the end of each surah; having reached a milestone just as a traveller does on his journey. Together with this each surah has its own subject matter, Surah al-Yusuf speaks of the story of Prophet Yusuf عليه السلام and Surah al-Bara'ah speaks of the conditions and hidden agendas of the hypocrites."
I would like to conclude by bringing a very deep quote from Imam Ibn al-Qayyim رحمه الله who said, "Allah brought down 104 Books whose meanings were compiled in the Taurah, Injeel, and the Quran - and the meanings of these three books were gathered in Mufassal (Surahs) and the meaning of Mufassal (was gathered) in Surah al-Fatihah and the meanings of al-Fatihah (was gathered) in: إِيّاكَ نَعبُدُ وَإِيّاكَ نَستَعينُ - You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help. [Madarij as-Salikin]
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