The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Religion Quotes in The Kite Runner
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The following week, after class, I showed the book to my teacher and pointed to the chapter on the Hazaras. He skimmed through a couple of pages, snickered, handed the book back. "That's the one thing Shi'a people do well," he said, picking up his papers, "passing themselves as martyrs." He wrinkled his nose when he said the word Shi'a, like it was some kind of disease. (2.24)
Amir receives wildly different educations on ethnicity and religion right at the start of the book. (Background Note: Hazara people are typically Shi'a Muslims and the Pashtun people are typically Sunni Muslim.) Amir's mother, whom we later discover was a kind and enlightened university professor, owned a book which included Shi'a Muslims in the official history of Afghanistan. That seems very important since Amir strikes Hassan, a Shi'a, from his personal history. Then there's Baba who loves and respects Ali (also a Shi'a Muslim), but who doesn't refer to Ali as his friend. And at the other extreme: Amir's teacher, the soldiers, and Sunni society in general which consistently discriminates against Shi'a Muslims. Amir has to navigate these different degrees of racial tolerance. Where does Amir end up in this spectrum? How does Amir treat Hassan? Is Amir guilty of religious discrimination against Hassan?
When I was in fifth grade, we had a mullah who taught us about Islam. His name was Mullah Fatiullah Khan, a short, stubby man with a face full of acne scars and a gruff voice. He lectured us about the virtues of zakat and the duty of hadj; he taught us the intricacies of performing the five daily namaz prayers, and made us memorize verses from the Koran – and though he never translated the words for us, he did stress, sometimes with the help of a stripped willow branch, that we had to pronounce the Arabic words correctly so God would hear us better. He told us one day that Islam considered drinking a terrible sin; those who drank would answer for their sin on the day of Qiyamat, Judgment Day. [...]
"I see you've confused what you're learning in school with actual education," he [Baba] said in his thick voice.
[Amir:] "But if what he said is true then does it make you a sinner, Baba?"
"Hmm." Baba crushed an ice cube between his teeth. "Do you want to know what your father thinks about sin?"
"Then I'll tell you," Baba said, "but first understand this and understand it now, Amir: You'll never learn anything of value from those bearded idiots."
[Amir:] "You mean Mullah Fatiullah Khan?" [...]
"They do nothing but thumb their prayer beads and recite a book written in a tongue they don't even understand." He [Baba] took a sip. "God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands." (3.13-25)
Hosseini depicts a liberal, Westernized Afghanistan through the character of Baba. Most of us probably think of Afghanistan as a traditional Islamic country – and some of that's true. But that thinking ignores the people like Baba, of an earlier era, who lived in larger cities like Kabul. Baba also has Westernized tastes: action movies, American cars, scotch. We can place Baba against the more extreme Taliban-ruled era – he's a throwback to the urban, secular Afghanistan of Amir's childhood.
I took the form and turned it in. That night, I waited until Baba fell asleep, and then folded a blanket. I used it as a prayer rug. Bowing my head to the ground, I recited half-forgotten verses from the Koran – verses the mullah had made us commit to memory in Kabul – and asked for kindness from a God I wasn't sure existed. I envied the mullah now, envied his faith and certainty. (12.108)
It's easy to forget about Amir's own religious convictions. Though he's not particularly religious as a boy, and seems under the sway of his father's secularism, Amir does develop a Muslim faith in the book. This plot plays a more or less minor role, but it's present nonetheless. In this passage, Amir turns to Islam for the first time for comfort and reassurance after a suspicious spot shows up on Baba's CAT scan. Later, he will pray devotedly to Allah when Sohrab tries to commit suicide. By the end of the book, we learn that Amir knows his daily prayers by heart. So what kind of Islam does Amir practice? Is it the same as Assef's or is it something different altogether?