For the most comprehensive summary, please become an eNotes member so that you can access our extensive Habibi resources on eNotes! In the meantime, however, I am happy to fill you in chapter by chapter with a brief summary for each. Keep in mind, however, that the chapters are not presented in chronological order (in that it often switches rapidly from past to present to future); therefore, it is important to take the story as a whole in order to understand it.
Chapter 1: As a quite common experience for the pretty young girl, Dodola, she is "purchased" for marriage. Sex is horrid for Dodola, but her husband eventually gains her confidence and even begins her education in the Qur'an. Eventually, thugs kill Dodola's husband and steal all of his weath (including Dodola). In the future, Dodola can be seen caring for a little boy name Zam in a small boat in the desert. She educates him on the Qur'an and teaches Zam to be brave. Zam finds a spring in the desert to sustain them (which connects Zam to Ishmael). Now the two need food, so Dodola approaches a caravan to beg for scraps. Meanwhile, she muses upon Abraham's agreement to sacrifice Issac out of faith.
Chapter 2: Now Dodola is a woman, pregnant with the child of a sultan named Wanatolia. Because Dodola considers Zam to be her only son (and a search party is looking for Zam), she tells Zam's story. The reader finds out more about how Dodola has come across Zam in the past. Even through she was branded a slave by her attackers, she rescues Zam. When the search party does not find Zam, Dodola decides to carry the baby instead of abort him/her with herbs. However, Dodola is revolted by the pregnancy and the resulting birth. In fact, after the birth she exclaims, "This is not my baby."
Chapter 3: Again we find Dodola in the desert with Zam. She has become a prostitute in order to find food for the two of them. Zam's job is to find water. One day, Zam follows a snake to a large collection of water which is not a mirage. Dodola doesn't believe Zam. Zam then sees Dodola being raped by a caravan and is amazed by her sacrifice. As a result, Zam goes back to the reservoir of water and begins to sell buckets full in order to buy food.
Chapter 4: This chapter details how Zam is separated from Dodola (and how she becomes the sultan's wife). In exchange for her freedom, Dodola promises to please the sultan for 70 nights. She does, until the last night when the sultan claims she is no longer exciting. Dodola tries to escape, but is imprisoned and chained. With the help of a guard, she regains her help and begins reading from the sultan's library. Eventually, she is allowed to send a search party for Zam, but she despairs when they don't find him. After she has Rajah (the son of the sultan), he is strangled. At this point, Dodola tricks the sultan into thinking she can turn items into gold.
Chapter 5: Zam begins searching for Dodola after she is kidnapped. When Zam can't find her, he acknowledges his attraction for her and then looks for food and water. He finds help among the eunuchs in the village who eventually convince Zam to become a eunuch himself in order to combat his desires for Dodola. Zam now lives as a female named Chamera and is disgusted that other eunuchs are becoming prostitutes to provide him/her food. However, Chamera decides to try in order to sacrifice just like Dodola. Unfortunately, he/she is kidnapped and taken to the sultan. The sultan eventually finds out that Dodola cannot turn things into gold and is sentenced to death. It is Chamera/Zam who is her guard. When Chamera is told to drown Dodola, Chamera jumps in with Dodola.
Chapter 6: When Chamera/Zam rescues Dodola, they try to make a life in the sewers where the find a man named Noah who purifies water through a contraption. Noah is willing to share his water and food with everyone. Zam and Dodola (who is now sick) spend time with Noah, thanking him for his kindness. However, when Noah's water contraption is destroyed, Noah becomes grumpy, miserly, and depressed. Zam rebuilds the machine and, after Dodola gets better, the two move on.
Chapter 7: Zam and Dodola, together again, search a garbage dump and find their boat, but cannot dig it out. They join others in search of scraps and shelter at the dump. They make a home in an abandoned building and Zam finds work at a water plant (where he soon rises to the position of manager). They sleep together, but aren't sexual do to their beliefs. Finally, Dodola asks Zam to be her husband. However, Zam is a eunuch now and can't give Dodola the child she so desperately wants, so Zam leaves after giving up all of his money.
Chapter 8: Zam contemplates suicide as he muses about why he became a eunuch (to avoid lust) and now can't give Dodola exactly what a man is supposed to give a wife. Zam realizes that he is fighting the true "jihad," ... which is the "struggle against oneself."
Chapter 9: Instead of killing himself, Zam comes home to Dodola. They discover a sensual connection during a bath, and Dodola is overjoyed to find she wants to be connected to Zam in that way. Now she calls Zam "Habibi," her beloved. They adopt a girl condemned to sexual slavery (as they cannot have one of their own) and raise her as their daughter, saving her from the same life that Dodola wishes she could have avoided.