"PUNISH a Muslim Day” was held this week. Across the country, anti-racist groups held demonstrations to show their support against growing Islamophobia as a response to the frightening and hate-filled flyers posted to homes in parts of England.

These “Punish a Muslim” poison pen letters listed a points system for a range of terrifying attacks on the Islamic community, from pulling off a woman’s hijab to the heinous crime of murder or bombing a mosque. Although none were sent in Scotland, as far as I am aware at the time of writing, many Muslims across the country were afraid to leave their homes, to go to work or let their children play outside as normal. And these children, our children, depressingly and upsettingly, all knew why.

These disgusting letters have been roundly condemned by the major political parties in this country, but beyond the rhetoric, they are part of a much wider problem in Britain, where levels of prejudice, discrimination and racial attacks against Muslims are on the rise.

SNP MSP Humza Yousaf, Labour MSP Anas Sarwar, myself and others have all been up front in our calls to tackle racism and rising Islamophobia in Scotland. As prominent Muslims in the public eye, we have talked openly about the vile abuse we receive on a weekly basis because of our faith.

As the new ugly face of racism comes out of the shadows – bolstered by a spreading “Brexititis” that has infected our discourse in private, in politics, in business, in the media and online – it is vital that individuals and groups stand firm and challenge this hate and those who propagate it.

Unfortunately, groups such as the unofficial Leave.EU organisation, supported by Nigel Farage and financed by right-wing businessman Aaron Banks, continue to fan the flames of bigotry.

Last week they posted a hugely offensive tweet suggesting that Labour’s anti-Semitism problems were down to their increasing reliance on the support of the “exploding” Muslim population in the UK.

Managing to be offensive on many counts, pitting Muslim communities against Jewish, Banks went on to defend his organisation’s tweet as “hitting the nail on the head” even after it had been reported as a hate crime to the authorities.

His blatant disregard for his role in spreading hatred and creating division is both shocking and alarming and ties in with a growing audacity by racist groups to openly display their contempt for minority communities.

How can any of us ever forget that Leave.EU were also responsible for the infamous “Breaking point” poster depicting a queue of Syrian refugees “flooding” into Britain.

At the time, Nigel Farage refused to apologise for this disgraceful message despite its Nazi connotations; rather like Banks, Farage feels that his version of the “truth” can be used as a justification for the worst kind of racist and xenophobic sentiment.

Both these men are responsible for diffusing ideas of discrimination and prejudice into the general political debate and they wear their intolerance with pride.

IN Scotland, the SNP-led government have taken a strong stance on racism. While the Tory party in London work hand in hand with the likes of Ukip and Farage in peddling their anti-immigration rhetoric, the government in Holyrood have made it their business to let our migrant population and our ethnic minorities know how much we value their contribution to our society, how much we appreciate their talents and the diversity they bring to our country.

We were three years ahead of schedule when we welcomed the 2000th Syrian refugee into our country last December, providing them with homes and giving them the support they needed to rebuild their lives after fleeing intolerable persecution and violence.

And just last week, my good friend and former colleague, SNP MP Joanna Cherry, ensured that a young Syrian refugee boy, who is part of a class of primary school children in her constituency, could attend a once-in-a-lifetime holiday won through his and his classmates artistic endeavours in a nationwide competition.

She petitioned the Prime Minister to ask the Home Office to sort out Mohammed’s papers as quickly as possible so he wouldn’t miss the chance to travel to Mallorca with his classmates.

It sent a clear message – no matter whether you are a Syrian refugee or born and bred on Irn Bru and porridge, we will value you just the same and offer you equal opportunities.

Meanwhile, as demonstrations against Islamophobia took place across Scotland this week, groups such as the Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh were promoting “Love a Muslim Day” with tweets and Facebook posts of support, while the Dunfermline Central Mosque and Islamic Centre held a “Put the Kettle On” event, inviting people from all walks of life in for a cup of tea, cake and a chat.

It’s positive initiatives like these which will bridge the gap between fear of the “other” and togetherness; between ignorance and an understanding of the benefits of living in a multi-cultural society.

We cannot let the hatred of a few minority groups dictate how we live our lives. After all, small gestures married with political will can change and defeat even the most entrenched prejudice and bias.