The story shows different levels of religiosity among the characters, but did you intentionally focus on secular Muslims?

I think you see the secular Muslims because I consider myself a secular Muslim. In the book specifically, much less so in the film, Amir's father [is] essentially an atheist and is not bound to any religion. Amir, himself, is on the fence. He's kind of an agnostic.

But, as the story progresses, and as he grows up and has a series of trials, and at the end, he comes to a place of faith... and has become a moderate practicing Muslim.

I myself come from a fairly liberal and secular background. Both my parents were practicing Muslims, but they never enforced religion on us. I have a particular disdain for Islamic extremism, and of course, in both "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns" that's obvious.

But I'm proud of the scene at the end of the film, where Amir goes to the mosque and prays, and it's an act of communication with his God. It's just a pious act [and] the ritual is performed in its proper context.

Usually in films, when Muslims pray, it's either before or after they've blown something up. I'm glad that that scene is there. I'm glad that Islam is shown, and it's in a more positive light in this film.

How would you describe the role of religion in real-life Afghanistan, and how is that reflected in the story?

Afghans are very religious people. Islam is just enmeshed in day-to-day life. It kind of sets the rhythm and pace of life in Afghanistan throughout [Kabul; I remember] that well from my childhood.

In the film, I thought it was important not to consciously focus on that but just let it be casually a part of the day-to-day life of these characters. So you have scenes where there [are] two characters, they're just praying, and then they get up and go about and do their things.

I felt like usually when there's a Muslim character in a film it's because they're Muslim, and then they're asked to do Muslim things. That identifies them as Muslims.

And what I like about ["The Kite Runner"] is that the faith of these characters is essentially incidental to the reason why they're in the story. I think hopefully there will come a day in Hollywood where we will have characters who are Muslim [and] who aren't in the story because of their faith but because they serve some [other] kind of purpose in the story. So it's this incidental treatment of their faith that I really admire and I think we need more of.

How have the Taliban changed the role of Islam in the country?

That's a complicated question. I think they've done a great disservice to the faith of Islam, not only Afghanistan, but throughout the world. They've kind of hijacked the face of Islam, as it were. Not just they alone, but of course the people that they collaborated with and depicted a very violent, unforgiving, nihilistic picture of that faith.

Most of the people that I know who are Muslim are nothing like them and have nothing but disregard and contempt for those factions. There have been polls in Afghanistan repeatedly, and the overwhelming majority of people are glad to be rid of the Taliban.... I wish that some other, more moderate elements of Islam would be more vocal, would have a more public face because the likes of Bin Laden and the Taliban have captured the media attention, and certainly they have been very vocal. I think some of the more, not necessarily secular per se, but the more moderate elements in that religion ought to try to balance that and be a little bit more vocal and more public.

Do you have hope for an Afghan society that enjoys full freedom of religion?

You always have to have hope. If we say, "We have no hope; it's hopeless, let's give up," I don't see that as an option. Afghanistan will always be a religious country. It will always be conservative. But within the context of that conservative religious country, I hope we can find a way to have a reasonable amount of freedom, where people are not persecuted for their faith, where people have a reasonable participatory process in politics, in representative politics.

A Western-style democracy in Afghanistan is a dream. I don't see that as a reality anytime soon. But I think some form of representative political process is not that far-fetched. But again a lot of it depends on the persistence and the long-term commitment of Western countries, particularly the United States.

With all your success and the current publicity, how do you stay grounded?

It's very easy: I'm 42 years old. At 42, you've lived long enough where you know what's important in your life. I have a wife; I'm responsible for two children who are 7 and 5. I have a very strong family life and that's really my life. I never lose focus. That's my reality.