(This is a reprise of a piece that originally appeared prior to the 2006 Feast of Tabernacles.)
Every year tens of thousands of Muslims gather in the holy city of Mecca. The haj is a pilgrimage all good followers of Islam are encouraged to make at least once in their lifetimes.
The haj is prefigured in, of all places, the book of Exodus, chapter 23:17. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.
John Collins (Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, page 133) comments.
These were occasions when the males were to “appear before the Lord” by going to a sanctuary. The Hebrew word for such a pilgrim feast is hag, which is related to the Arabic name for the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the haj.
In a sense, then, the Church of God observance of the Feast of Tabernacles is a haj. Thousands of people travelling to far away places in obedience to what they believe is a divine command.
The similarities don't end there. Islam has a prophet, Muhammed, and so does Armstrongism. At a minimum we're talking about Herbert Armstrong (Apostle, Elijah), but others have claimed a similarly exalted status (Gerry Flurry for example.) The COGs talk about dwelling in tabernacles or booths (though they prefer nice solid motel rooms) while the Muslim pilgrims literally do dwell in tents, whether rich or poor. And as anyone who has read the embittered ravings of Mark Armstrong will know, there is a certain mullah-like disposition to many of the preachers of Armstrongism. As worshipers in some (but by no means all) mosques are exposed to disturbingly overt political messages, just so are many (but not all) Church of God members lambasted with not-so subtle conservative political rhetoric parading as “Bible truth”.
For others the Feast is a great occasion, and they return home feeling genuinely recharged and renewed in their sense of identity as Christians. More power to them. I've listened to a number of feast sermons that were positive and upbuilding. It's simply not true to characterize the Feast as something inevitably negative or legalistic. I've never attended a Friday prayer service at a mosque, but I suspect something similar is true there too.
For those departing for the eight days, happy haj!