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Chapter 1 Summary

Habibi, by Craig Thompson, is a graphic novel set in a fictional Islamic land filled with deserts, palaces, skyscrapers, and garbage. In his story, Thompson weaves elements of religious texts and fairy tales into a complex modern world that is burdened by drought, pollution, and greed.

The story begins as Dodola, a beautiful nine-year-old girl, is sold into marriage. Her first sexual experience with her new husband leaves her terrified. Afterward, her husband explains that she does not need to be ashamed of sex within marriage. Over time, he teaches her to read and write. She soon finds herself inspired by the beauty of letters and by the stories she reads in the Qur’an. Then one day, a group of thieves break into their house. They steal all of Dodola’s husband’s valuable possessions, including Dodola, whom they find hiding in a basket. When her husband tries to prevent the men from taking her, they murder him.

At this point, the story jumps three years into the future. Dodola is now twelve years old, and the memory of her husband’s murder still gives her nightmares. She is now living with a small boy, a little black child she calls Zam, in a boat they have found in the desert. Dodola acts as both mother and sister to Zam.

Dodola tells Zam many stories from ancient times and from the Qur’an. One of these stories concerns a mathematical pattern of nine squares that historically held mystical significance in many parts of the world. She shows Zam how to draw the symbols, and she explains how the numbers of the pattern reoccur in the Qur'an. She then creates a talisman for Zam to help him feel brave in their stark desert home.

Zam's real mother named him Cham. However, soon after he and Dodola move into their desert home, he finds a spring that supplies them with water. In this way, he is like Abraham’s son Ishmael, whose mother was a slave. According to one of Dodola’s stories, God ordered Abraham to abandon Ishmael and his mother in the desert. There Ishmael found a sacred well, Zamzam. Dodola nicknames Zam after this well.

Dodola needs to feed herself and Zam, but the desert produces little food. She reflects on another sacred story in which God commands Abraham to prove his faith by sacrificing his son. In the Qur’an, Abraham agrees to sacrifice Ishmael, the son of his slave. In the Bible, Abraham agrees to sacrifice Isaac, the son of his wife. Ishmael goes along willingly with his father’s plan, whereas Isaac believes he is going to help sacrifice an animal.

One day, Dodola sees a caravan and tells Zam that she is going to ask the passing travelers for food. As she leaves him behind and approaches the caravan, she still thinks about the story of Abraham's sacrifice. By juxtaposing this story with Dodola's, the author suggests that she will have to make a sacrifice in order to supply herself and Zam with the food they need to survive.

Chapter 2 Summary

When Chapter 2 of Habibi begins, Dodola is a grown woman and a concubine in the harem of a sultan named Wanatolia. She has lost Zam, and she wants desperately to find him again. However, Wanatolia refuses to let her leave. She is pregnant with his child, but she does not want it. She explains to Nadidah, her slave and best friend, that Zam is her only true child. As Nadidah helps her induce an herbal abortion, Dodola tells Zam’s story.

Now the narrative jumps backward in time, to a point after the child Dodola is stolen from her husband but before she meets Zam. Dodola is branded as a slave by two men, presumably the ones who murdered her husband. They tie her by the hair to two other girls, and she waits fearfully to find out what will happen next.

Dodola hears crying and sees a group of men raising a sword to kill a three-year-old boy. She leaps up, dragging the other slave girls behind her, and snatches the child out of the men’s hands. She claims that he is her brother, but nobody believes this because the child is black and she is Arabic. However, the men’s leader decides to...

(The entire section is 5,084 words.)