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The Kite Runner – Religion Theme


My object of study is The Kite Runner — a novel by Khaled Hosseini, published by Riverhead Books in USA, 2003. The novel was adapted into a film in 2007 by the same name of The Kite Runner.

Khaled Hosseini was born on 4th March 1965 in Kabul, Afghanistan. His father worked for Afghan Foreign Ministry, and his mother was a teacher of Farsi and History. When Soviets occupied Afghanistan in 1978, the Hosseini family seek political asylum in the United States of America (USA) and moved to San Jose, California. Where Hosseini graduated from High School, and earned biology degree from Santa Clara University. He attended SanDiego’s School of Medicine and completed his MD in 1993. He started writing The Kite Runner in 2001 while he was a practicing physician1. Hosseinii’s Kite Runner is partly based on his childhood experiences in Wazir Akbar Khan in Kabul. While most of the events in the novel are fictional. After living 27 years in USA he returned to Afghanistan in 2003 and was shocked to discover the terrible situation there, even when he had written a very realistic and detailed fictional narrative of it. He declared that because of luck and material privilege, he and his family was saved from the Soviets and the Taliban, much like his central figure of the narrative – “Amir”.

The rationale for choosing this novel is that it encourages the reader for repentance, and offers hope in devastation. It is a story of friendship and betrayal, love and sacrifices, written beautifully by Hosseini, against the background of Afghan political history.


Afghanistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia. Its economy is based on agriculture and provides 70% of world’s opium and 90% of Europe’s heroin, but still one of the poorest countries. Among its 28 million people, 50% of men are illiterate and 79% of women. Life expectancy here is 47 years. The country has a long history of foreign interference by the Greeks, Persians, Turks, British, Indians and Russians. Taliban’s began as a group of fundamentalist Islamic students, were the last intruders until 2001 when Americans occupied and dismissed them. Because of all these intruders, there was a great diversity of culture and ethnicity in the country. Afghanistan divided into approximately 20 different ethnic groups, which further divided into tribes 2.

It is inevitable to have conflicts between different groups while living in the same country, because of differences in their morals and beliefs. In Kite Runner Hosseini’s main character Amir is a Pashtun and Hassan, is a Hazara – the two groups do not get along in Afghanistan. According to Hosseini two things separate Hazara’s from other ethnicities, one is that their looks are different, because they are the descendants of Mongol Empire and secondly, they are Shia Muslims, unlike most Afghans who are Sunni Muslims. Hazara’s throughout the centuries have been the oppressed minority in Afghanistan.

The Kite Runner acquires its name from the ancient game of kite flying known as “gudi paran bazi”. Boys make “fighter kites” from a bamboo frame together with tissue paper in different sizes ranging from one to five feet across. They attach the string to the kite which is coated with powdered ground glass. The goal of the fight is to cut the opponents kite string with a sawing motion. The real fight starts as soon as the enemy’s kite subsides and all wait impatiently to see who will get the fallen kite, as the kite is a symbol of their pride and glory. 3

Hosseini symbolises the kite fighting to the fighting between Afghan government and Mujahidin, whose hands were blooded and bruised, in the same way as does the hands of kite flyer when the kites string sears through his hands. Another way in which kite flying symbolises with the story of Amir and Hassan is the class difference between them, as the boy who controls the kite is Amir (Pashtun), and the other who assists him and run for the fallen kite for him is Hassan (Hazara), who also served Amir by cleaning and washing for him. Although, the kite fighting is violent but the only act of flying kite is innocent and depicts freedom. Despite their class differences the only activity which brings the two boys together is flying kites.  The Kite Runner is the story of the friendship between two boys grew up in Kabul, Raised in the same household and shared the same wet nurse, Amir and Hassan grew up in different worlds: Amir is the son of a prominent and wealthy man, while Hassan, the son of Amir’s father’s servant, is a Hazara – an outcast ethnic minority. The two boys were very much attached to each other in their childhood and spend perfect time together by telling stories, running and flying kites, until that event happened which changed their lives forever. Their lives and their fates were interrelated, even when Amir and his father left the country for a new life in California, Amir thinks that he will forget Hassan, but surprisingly he couldn’t. It is a story of Amir, his childhood, how he faces all the challenges while maturing into manhood, his friendship with Hassan, love and hate, father son’s bonding and on the top, about the price one has to pay for his loyalty and betrayal.

Representation of Religion

The novel of Kite Runner is set in Afghanistan, where the majority of the population are Muslim and there are lot of references to Muslims and their beliefs in the novel. For example, “……the 10th day of Dhul-Hijjah, the last month of the Muslim calendar, and the first three days of Eid-ul-Adha, or Eid-e-Qorban, as Afghans call it – a day to celebrate how the prophet Ibrahim almost sacrificed his own son for God. Baba has handpicked the sheep again this year, a powder white one with crooked black ears.” (p 67)

As Hayes S. Judi (2007) writes, “Hosseini’s view point is in many ways secular, when it is religious; the perspective is from an Islamic world view, not a Judeo- Christian perspective. But because Islam, Judaism, and Christianity hold in common at least some of events in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew bible, we will find much there that informs our reading of THE KITE RUNNER.”

Religion can be interpreted differently by different people according to their own values and beliefs. Same is the case in Hosseini’s Kite Runner. Religion in the eyes of Baba (Amir Father) is morality, pride, honour and courage, and in order to be human one has to gain honour and respect in his community. Example of his pride and honour is that when they encountered a Russian soldier, on their way out of Afghanistan and the soldier demanded “a half hour with the lady in the back of the truck”, Baba said, “Ask him where his shame is.—————————–war doesn’t negate decency. It demands it, even more than in time of peace.”(p100)

Baba was more secular in his views and did not like the orthodox religious preachers, who impose their rigid views on others and who couldn’t even allow minor sins and errors. His views on fundamentalists Taliban when he says “——you’ll never learn anything of value from those bearded idiots——-piss on the beards of all those self righteous monkeys——–God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands———“(p15). While he has his own secular views, but he did good deeds in order to relieve his tormenting guilt.

“———–now, no matter what the Mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. Do you understand that?” (p16)

For Amir, Religion is something entirely private; he was also influenced by his father and didn’t much believe in traditional religious values. We only found him praying twice. Firstly, when his father got sick “……………bowing my head to the ground, I recited half forgotten verses from the Koran…………………..and asked for kindness from a God I wasn’t sure existed.”(p135)

Secondly, when Sohrab tried to cut himself, “………………the boy had cut himself deeply and lost a great deal of blood and my mouth begins to mutter that prayer again; La illaha il Allah, Muhammad u rasul ullah……………I will do namaz, I will do zakat. I will fast.” (p304)

Stereotypes of Religion

We can see stereotypes of Taliban in The Kite Runner. Assef, the childhood bully, became a Taliban member. Hosseini portray Assef as a Talib just to give a back ground to the story. He knew that Taliban are already viewed badly in the western world. Assef claimed that he’s on a mission of God and Amir asked him about his mission, “What mission is that? …………………..Stoning adulterers? Raping children? Flogging women for wearing high heels? Massacring Hazaras? All in the name of Islam?” (p248). As we can see how their rulers in the name of religion, beat, stoned, raped and brutalized women. Years of war had stripped them of gentleness, kindness and human expression, the very aspect of religion they allegedly follow and try to impose. And all in the name of God and religion they have turned their monstrosity on their own people.

Critics of The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini’s THE KITE RUNNER faced lot of appreciation as well as criticism. Like all other work of art and literature, people from different sections advance The Kite Runner with different feelings.

A critic for The New York Times Book Review described The Kite Runner as “A story of fierce cruelty and fierce yet redeeming love. Both transform the life of Amir, Khaled Hosseini’s privileged young narrator, who comes of age during the last peaceful days of the monarchy, just before the country’s revolution and its invasion by Russian forces. But, political events, even as dramatic as the ones that are presented in The Kite Runner, are only a part of this story. In The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini gives us a vivid and engaging story that reminds us how long his people have been struggling to triumph over the forces of violence. Forces that continue to threaten them even today.”

“Written in the back drop of 9/11by an Afghan – born medical doctor, The Kite Runner presents a glimpse of socio political climate in Afghanistan and the Afghan community in northern California. The Kite Runner achieves this by offering a fictional portrait of recent events manipulated by tribalism and religious conservatism and aggravated by foreign interferences but overcome through the humanism and bravery, which is fuelled by the sense of community.”(Sadat, 2004)

Some argue that Hosseini has put his finger on very sensitive cultural issues that Afghanis don’t like to be discussing in public. Others accuse him of being secular, who believe in oneness of Allah and the Quran.

In my opinion, Khaled Hosseini took a very bold step, in order to disclose and expose such brutality and misery, which was practised by Pashtuns, (Afghanistan’s dominant nationality), against Hazaras in the name of Religion. The people should have the understanding of what’s going on in the world, other than theirs, in order to do something for those who are living in oppression, either in the name of religion, or in the name of Jihad- where the male chauvinist violate innocent children, women and men.


The Kite Runner basically in my view is a legendary story of people of Afghanistan. The author provides a very long, descriptive and eye opening account of Afghanistan’s culture and traditions, along with its people. He portrays a complete picture of life in Kabul before Soviets invasion and Taliban to the Western world as a cosmopolitan, artistic and a very intellectual environment.

According to Sadat (2004) the author’s goal “………… to humanize the Afghan people and put a personal face to what has happened there.”

For me The Kite Runner is a story of people’s conscience that they have to face during their difficult times in life.

The religion of the novel in my view is redemption. Redemption is very important for those who has conscience and have sinned. The entire story of The Kite Runner is focused on just one sentence,

“There is a way to be good again,” (p.2)

Allah says in Quran 12; 53

“And I do not make myself free of blame, for the human soul is inclined to ignorance, except what My Lord has mercy on. Surely My Lord is Forgiving, Merciful.”

“Allah accepts the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will Allah turn in mercy: For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.” Quran 4: 17. 

The Buddhist, Christian and Hindu principles of salvation are very much in common. Each of them stresses on liberation from sin, and relief from evil. Their goal is to return back to their former chastity and happiness. As evil is everywhere in this physical world, it is inevitable to commit sin making it inseparable from life. They believe that freedom can be achieved only by deserting this world. Buddhist believes into this doctrine in its purest form while Christians and Hindus have adjusted it to some extent, according to their belief.

Amir is telling us the story of his childhood, memories of which are corrupted with shame and guilt. Towards the end of the novel we learned to know that it is not only Amir who needs redemption but Baba and Rahim Khan has also sinned and lived throughout their life in guilt. Amir thinks of himself as the only sinner among his friends and family, and his guilt become stronger when he sees Hassan as a righteous person. Amir had disgraced himself by not coming forward and helping Hassan when he was attacked and by lying and creating a situation in which Hassan was blamed of stealing and made him and his father (Ali) to leave Amir’s home. Amir’s relationship with Baba was very strained, as his father was very hard-driving and demanding. Amir was Desperate for his father’s affection and respect, and turns to kite flying sport, in which he was good from his childhood. At the age of 12, he wins the annual tournament of kite flying in Kabul with the help of Hassan.  Amir was very jealous of Hassan and wanted his father’s love so much for himself, that he hurt Hassan in the process.  Amir tried continuously to make even with Baba, and didn’t realize that it is Baba’s guilt which made him so hard on Amir and that Baba also needed redemption. People find redemption when they pay in some way for their wrong doings and try to replace the bad things with good ones.

One day, Rahim Khan, Amir’s fathers close friend called him and told him that he needed to come back home and to make things right, that had been done wrong, “there is a way to be good again”(p.2) indicated to Amir that it was a right time to let the guilt go away and redeem himself from the sin he committed 26 years ago. Finally, Amir redeemed himself as Rahim Khan recommended for him in his last letter, “………..I believe, is what true redemption is, Amir jan, when guilt leads to good” (p263).

Later on, in the novel we learned that Hassan was his half brother and that he had had a son. Amir found his way to redemption by looking after Hassan’s orphan son. He left his wife and home in America to look for the boy in Afghanistan. Once, Hassan stood up for Amir, now its Amir turn to do something for his son Sohrab. He had to fight with his childhood enemy, (Assef) the man who caused him the suffering and guilt, in order to rescue Sohrab, and it was Sohrab who saved Amir’s life that day who wanted to sacrifice his blood for Hassan in the same way as Hassan did in the alley one night about 26 years ago. When Amir was cruelly beaten by Assef, he laughed and said, “………….My body was broken-just how badly I wouldn’t find until later-but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed” (p253). These words show that his guilt and anxiety of finding redemption were really huge. He felt he deserved to be punched to the point of almost dying; he needed to feel punishment for what he did.

The Kite Runner is a beautiful story about guilt and forgiveness, fear and redemption. The story emphasizes on what happens when there is an overwhelming fear which control one’s actions, and the way one deals with this kind of situations.

Rahim Khan carries the novel’s conclusive message about forgiveness. God is always merciful; and it is people who are not.

He tells Amir in his letter, “I know that in the end, God will forgive. He will forgive your father, me, and you too … Forgive your father if you can. Forgive me if you wish. But most important, forgive yourself.” (P263-264)

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