As the month of Muharram enters the days of the Ashura – the 9th and 10th of the month – Muslim communities around the world, both Shia and Sunni, commemorate the death of the Prophet’s (PBUH) grandson, Hussain ibn Ali, by observing mourning. The rituals and traditions performed on these days are as diverse as the Muslim world itself, the essence however remains the same; remembering the fallen, refraining from excess merriment, and reaffirming communal bonds through shared emotion and pain.

These holy days and the rituals associated with them despite being at the heart of the Sunni-Shia divide, also serve to bring the more moderate sections of the two sects together in mourning; its importance as such must not be understated. It is hoped that this year’s events are passed in the same spirit of peace and community.

In the vast majority of countries where Ashura is commemorated, the rituals are peaceful events. Multi-religious and multi-ethnic neighbourhoods give the same respect and understanding afforded to all other major religious festivals - such as Eid, Diwali, Christmas and Vaisakhi.

However, in Pakistan, as in several other Middle Eastern countries, the threat of sectarian violence gives another dimension to this event. Extremist militants have targeted Shia individuals, communities and Imambarghas before, and the gatherings on these two days are a prime target.

In Iraq, where almost a million individuals make pilgrimage to the city of Karbala, the threat is much more stark. The country has been caught in the middle of a vicious anti Shia campaign carried out by the Islamic State (IS), and the security personnel in that country are on full alert.

In Pakistan, security has been beefed up too. Quetta, which has suffered the brunt of sectarian violence is once again under the spotlight. Around 5,000 security personnel have been deployed in the provincial capital to ensure complete security during Muharram majalis and Ashura. The government’s prerogative to act for security may be made out of necessity, but it must be commended nonetheless.

It is important to remember at this point that these security arrangements are not foolproof and never can be. If the worst possible scenario becomes true, our reaction must not be to blame each other and further deepen the divide, but instead to reaffirm the spirit of these holy days and come together in harmony.