Dihya Kahina(7th Century),Female Warrior Chief of North Africa against the Muslim Invasion

| December 29, 2012 | Comments (0)

The historical figure called Dihya is virtually unknown in the West but she is very loved by her Berber people.

Who was Kahina (circa 575-702) (meaning “priestess”,”sorceress” in Arabic), whose real name was Dihya?


1.Dihya was a Berber warrior queen who lived in the 7th century in the Aures region,which is in eastern Algeria and western Tunisia, North Africa.She fought the Muslims during the Islamic expansion. Writers in the Arabic language in the Middle Ages wrote about her.

2.Several women in the 20th century have written novels about Dihya Kahina and many thinkers say she is one of the first feminists.It is also said that she was fascinated by birds, that is to say, by ornithology .

3.They say she lived 127 years,an obvious exageration.

What was Dihya’s religion?

1.It is possible that she was an animist, but it is more likely that her Berber tribe was Christian.

2.According to Tunisian scholar Ibn Khaldun(1332-1406),the founder of sociology, she was Berber and of the Jewish religion,her tribe having adopted Judaism.Ibn Khaldun said that on the eve of the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, several Berber tribes practiced Judaism and it was believed Dihya had magical powers.

The beginning of the conquest of the region

Egypt had already been conquered and conquering the rest of North Africa was decided by the head of the Omayyad dynasty, caliph Muawiya I. The king of the Berber tribe Djerawa, one of the most powerful in the Aures region, was Kusayla (ruled 660-686) and he fought against the Muslims.

At his death in 686, Dihya became chief and lead the resistance.She was an only daughter and was elected or appointed chief by the tribe after the death of her father. Dihya proceeded to call many tribes of North Africa to wage war against the Muslims and Dihya is the only woman in history to combat the Omayyad empire.

Dihya is twice victorious over the Muslims

1.In the first battle Dihya won a victory over the forces of Hassan Ibn Numan, the Muslim general,at Miskiana, Algeria. In the valley and dry desert Dihya concealed her army during the night and ambushed the troops of Ibn Numan.

2.Ibn Numan was again defeated by Dihya in 695 near Tabarqa.

The defeat of Dihya Kahina

In 699 Ibn Numan took the city of Carthage and asked the caliph for more men to attack Dihya.She fought using a scorched earth policy to deter the invader thus alienating the urban and sedentary Berbers. Dihya fought one last time against Ibn Numan in 702.

The betrayal of Dihya by a Muslim,who she had adopted as a son

Khalid was a young Arab soldier captured by Dihya and adopted as a son,along with her two biological sons. Khalid sent secret information to the Muslim army and Dihya lost the battle and was captured.It is written that she was beheaded in the amphitheater of El Jem, Tunisia and her head delivered to the caliph.

The amphitheater of El Jem was the biggest of the Roman Empire (30,000 spectators) after the Colosseum in Rome (50,000 spectators).

The El-Jem amphitheater

The price to pay for peace

1, The Berbers were forced to become Muslim, the two sons of Dihya became Muslims and were given the government of the Aures region.

2.After this victory, Hassan Ibn Numan told the Berbers to supply 12,000 soldiers for the conquest of Spain, which occurred in 711.

Two other famous Berbers in history, the playwright Terence (190-159 BC) and the novelist Apuleius (125-170)

The region composed by Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia has produced remarkable people who were not Berbers, such as:

1.Hannibal Barca (247-183 BC)

The famous Carthaginian/Phoenician general,born in what is now Tunisia and among the best in history,along with Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.He crossed the Alps with 40 elephants and tried to conquer Rome.

2.Augustin (354-430)

Born in Algeria,he was the most distinguished Christian thinker of Antiquity,the author of “Confessions,” which is his autobiography, and “The City of God”.

3.Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406)

He is the founder of sociology, with his work “Muqaddimah / Prolegomena.” Read about it here:

“The imperialist and colonialist Islam approved by Muslim Ibn Khaldun, Father of Sociology”

It is in French,but you can translate using Google Translate:





4.Albert Camus (1913-1960)

Born in Algeria,French writer and philosopher, Nobel Prize in Literature.His best work is “The Stranger/Outsider” (1942) where the action takes place in Algeria.


Who was Terence (Publius Terentius Afer Latin) (190-159 BC)?

1.He was a Berber,not a Carthaginian-Phoenician,and born in Carthage, near Tunis.He is famous for his plays in Latin and is, with Plautus (254-184 BC), the best playwright in Latin literature.Plautus wrote Aulularia,which is about a miser and his pot of gold, which is the origin of Moliere’s(1622-1673) play “The Miser”.

2.Térence was enslaved when he was still a child.He was sold to a Roman senator in Italy. Thanks to his talent, which strongly impressed his master, he received an education and was quickly freed. He frequented high society and scholarly circles, writing comedies.Terence wrote six plays and we have them all.

Two famous sayings by Terence

“Homo sum; humani nihil a me puto alienum / I am a man and I consider nothing human alien to me.”

“Quot homines, tot sententiae / There are as many men as there are opinions.”

Apuleius (125-170), the best novelist in Latin literature

He was born in Madaure (now M’daourouch, Algeria), who wrote what is probably the best novel in Latin litteratue, “The Golden Ass/The Metamorphosis”.It tells the very entertaining adventures of a man who is transformed into a donkey, through magic, and passes from one master to another and learns many things.At the end he is changed back into a man.

To know more about Dihya:




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