The Kite Runner illustrates the many ways characters practice Islam, and how a single religion can take on starkly different forms. Baba is not a religious man, and he openly mocks and questions the hypocrisy of Muslim leaders. Amir’s lack of religious upbringing later serves him well when it allows him to look past Soraya’s sexual history in a way that other Afghan men have been unwilling to do. On the other hand, Ali’s diligent recitation of daily prayers is depicted as honorable, and his devout faith marks him as one of the most admirably humble characters in the novel. When Amir feverishly, almost instinctively, starts praying after Sohrab’s suicide attempt, not only are the depths of Amir’s desperation revealed, but also the latent influence of Ali’s faith.
Religious zealotry is used by other characters to justify horrific acts of cruelty. Assef, who becomes a Taliban leader, justifies his murder of Hazaras as “virtuous” and truly believes he is “doing God’s work.” Amir witnesses Assef stone two adulterers to death, then discovers how he has turned Sohrab into his own child prostitute, all in the name of Islam. Through this radicalized perversion of religion, Assef and the rest of the Taliban are able to carelessly justify anything, while Baba and Amir—who, for most of the novel, have little or no religious identity—are burdened by past mistakes that they must wrestle with.
Throughout The Kite Runner, racism is depicted both overtly and more subtly and systemically. Assef, the most overtly racist character in the novel, directly justifies his rape of Hassan by saying, “It’s just a Hazara.” Later, Assef compares Hazaras to garbage littering the “beautiful mansion” of Afghanistan, and he takes it upon himself to “take out the garbage” by murdering those he views as second-class citizens. Amir’s original failure to defend Hassan against Assef is surely motivated by cowardice and his desire to please Baba, but Amir is also able to justify his inaction because of the social distance he feels due to Hassan’s ethnic background. This racism becomes complicated when Amir later learns that he and Hassan were half-brothers. Amir finally publicly rejects his implicit racism when he instructs General Taheri that the General can never refer to Sohrab as “Hazara boy” again.