Short Answer: The Quran teaches that death DOES take place at the exact time Allah has decreed it. NDEs are obviously a reminder of the life hereafter. Prophet Muhammad narrated what believers and non-believers will experience at the time of death. Some details are also mentioned in the Quran. Allah decrees the time of death for every human being and He does not delay it even for a second. So, those who claim to have had Near Death Experiences (NDEs) are persons who were not really dying, but thought they were dying.
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In the United States, Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) as popularized by the movie Heaven Is for Real (2014) have received a lot of attention from the public.
And there were dozens of books too, like Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander and To Heaven and Back by Mary C. Neal.
Interestingly another book entitled The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven by Alex Malarkey and Kevin Malarkey was removed from the market as the authors admitted that they had made it all up.
The general tenor of the NDEs described in these books is the same.
They relate “the sensation of floating up and viewing the scene around one’s unconscious body; spending time in a beautiful, otherworldly realm; meeting spiritual beings …. and finally being called, reluctantly, away from the magical realm and back into one’s own body.” (The Science of Near-Death Experiences)
All these books belong to the genre of Christian Literature.
Several studies were conducted to establish their veracity; and most of them have concluded that NDEs were the result of physical changes that cause a kind of hallucination generated by a dying brain.
NDErs dismiss these explanations as inadequate.
Eben Alexander (the author of Proof of Heaven) is a neurosurgeon who claimed to have studied his own medical charts and came to the conclusion that during his NDE, his brain was so completely shut down, and his soul had indeed detached from his body and gone on a trip to another world, and that angels, God, and the afterlife are all as real as can be.
What Does Religion Say?
We cannot reduce the richness of human experience merely to the activity of brain cells.
Religions teach that consciousness continues even after physical death.
They speak of phenomena beyond our normal experience or understanding.
Near-death experiences are obviously a reminder of the life hereafter, as religious belief has a big role in a person’s NDE.
But this does not mean that all these stories linked to NDEs are true.
In fact the documented NDEs of Muslims are hard to come by.
It may be because Muslims generally do not rely on the publication of such experiences to prove the truth of the afterlife.
And also because publishing books on every topic under the sun is a typical American enterprise and Muslims by far are not into it.
Islam’s View of Near Death
No doubt death is the only certainty in life. All the same, nobody knows where, how and when they will die.
Only Allah knows that. Allah says in the Quran:
“Say: ‘The Angel of Death, put in charge of you, will (duly) take your souls. Then shall you be brought back to your Lord.” (Quran 32:11)
The Quran teaches that death DOES take place at the exact time Allah has decreed it. Allah Almighty says:
“And spend on others out of what We have provided for you as sustenance, before there comes a time when death approaches any of you, and he then says, “O my Sustainer! If only You would grant me a delay for a short while, so that I could give in charity and be among the righteous!”
But never does God grant a delay to a human being when his term has come; and God is fully aware of all that you do.” (Quran 63:10-11)
The above verses mean that it is Allah Almighty who decrees the time of death for every human being and He does not delay it even for a second.
So, those who claim to have had NDEs are persons who were not really dying, but thought they were dying.
They might have had extremely traumatic or harrowing experience caused by a fatal disease or an accident. And in such a situation, their brain might give them a sort of relief from the agony through hallucination.
The dream-like images they see then would be influenced by their religious beliefs and peculiar psychology.
Hence the so-called NDEs narrated by the subjects are not necessarily factual.
Evidently, they are NOT real near-death experiences as they do not die, but continue to live here.
What Happens at Death?
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has narrated what believers and non-believers will experience at the time of death:
“..When the believing slave (of Allah) is about to depart this world and enter the Hereafter, there come down to him from heaven, angels with white faces like the sun, and they sit around him as far as the eye can see. They bring with them shrouds from Paradise and perfumes from Paradise. Then the Angel of Death comes and sits by his head, and he says, ‘O good soul, come forth to forgiveness from Allah and His pleasure. ..’’” (Ahmad)
“When the disbelieving slave is about to depart this world and enter the Hereafter, there come down to him from heaven angels with black faces, bringing sackcloth, and they sit around him as far as the eye can see. Then the Angel of Death comes and sits by his head, and he says, ‘O evil soul, come forth to the wrath of Allah and His anger.’” (Ahmad)
A person who believes the above narrations is likely to have a dream-like experience arising from that awareness if he has an NDE. And such a person may live to narrate it to others.
As you have said in your question, NDEs have a lot to do with what people expect to happen.
Some Muslims according to their personal beliefs may hope to meet the Prophet greeting them at the time of their death.
But such a belief has no basis in the sources of Islam, namely the Quran and the Hadith.
Hope the foregoing answers your question.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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