إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَكْفُرُونَ بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ وَيَقْتُلُونَ النَّبِيِّينَ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ وَيَقْتُلُونَ الَّذِينَ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْقِسْطِ مِنَ النَّاسِ فَبَشِّرْهُم بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ
Those who disbelieve in the Revelations and signs of God, and frequently kill the Prophets (sent to them) against all right, and who kill those who advocate and try to establish equity and justice—give them the glad tidings of a painful punishment. (Al ‘Imrān 3:21)
Those who had not believed in any revealed religion before the Age of Bliss and those who had accepted some aspects of religion without believing in God, as well as those who do not see the clear signs, verses, and proofs of the existence and Unity of God and thus go astray and make others deviate into unbelief—all of those groups are referred to as “those who disbelieve in the Revelations and signs of God.” Also, those who rebelled against the “means of their salvation” (i.e., the Prophets) and killed some of them although they were honored with the revelation of the Book and with Prophets, received the evil reputation of “those who frequently kill the Prophets against all right.” And those who oppose the advocates of justice and righteousness and slay them are condemned and reviled as “those who kill those who advocate and try to establish equity and justice.” There is a common end for all those groups: “a painful punishment.”
Those people have been able neither to stop time and prevent the earth from turning in order to live longer nor to succeed in not going into another realm, for which they have had no preparations. As Bediüzzaman Said Nursi stated, “They have never been able to kill death and close the door of the grave;” therefore they have suffered from the pain of death even before they have died. They have expended this world and sacrificed their afterlife for their desires, lusts, and fancies. As a result, they are so unfortunate that they have lost in this world and have been condemned to loss in the other.
In addition, if we pay attention to the conclusion of the verse, we see an unusual style: “the glad tidings of a painful punishment.” Normally, glad tidings mean good, joyful, and cheerful things—not unfortunate and sad situations. For instance, one cannot say to a man whose father died: “Glad tidings! Your father died.” Or “Congratulations! You have gone bankrupt.” Nonetheless, the Qur’ān uses this kind of expression for the unbelievers. So there must certainly be important wisdom in that phrase. That wisdom—and God knows the best—must be the following: There is a meaningful sarcasm (tahakkum in Arabic) about the unbelievers in that sentence. Those people who have closed themselves off to belief and are full of hate, malevolence, anger, and fury against the Qur’ān become rabid when they hear such words.
If this last part of the verse is considered in the context of the entire verse, a fine point reveals itself: God has shown these people the ways to belief, sent them Prophets, and appointed among them intellectual and spiritual guides and advocates of justice and equity after the Prophets. Nevertheless, those people have always responded God’s bounties with denial and ingratitude. Namely, they have not believed in God. They killed the Prophets; they have killed the representatives of justice and equity. The expression of “give them the glad tidings of a painful punishment” both informs of their dreadful end and reminds them that they have missed the opportunity to receive the tidings that are really glad.