Dihya (Berber: Daya Ult Yenfaq Tajrawt, Dihya, or Damya), was a Berber queen, religious and military leader who led indigenous resistance to Arab expansion in Northwest Africa, the region then known as Numidia, known as eastern Algeria today. She was born in the early 7th century and died around the end of the 7th century in modern day Algeria.
Her personal name is one of these variations: Daya, Dihya, Dahya or Damya (with Arabic spellings it's difficult to distinguish between these variants). Her title was cited by Arabic-language sources as al-Kāhina (the priestess soothsayer). This was the nickname used by her Muslim opponents because of her reputed ability to foresee the future.
Over four centuries after her death, Tunisian hagiographer al-Mālikī seems to have been among the first to state she resided in the Aurès Mountains. Just on seven centuries after her death, the pilgrim at-Tijani was told she belonged to the Lūwāta tribe. When the later historian Ibn Khaldun came to write his account, he placed her with the Jrāwa tribe.
According to various sources, al-Kāhinat was the daughter of Tabat, or some say Mātiya. These sources depend on tribal genealogies, which were generally concocted for political reasons during the 9th century.
Accounts from the 19th century on, claim she was of Jewish religion or that her tribe were Judaized Berbers, though scholars dispute this. According to al-Mālikī she was said to have been accompanied in her travels by what the Arabs called an "idol", possibly an icon of the Virgin or one of the Christian saints, but certainly not something associated with Jewish religious customs.
The idea that the Jrāwa were Judaized comes from the medieval historian Ibn Khaldun, who named them among a number of such tribes. Hirschberg and Talbi note that Ibn Khaldun seems to have been referring to a time before the advent of the late Roman and Byzantine empires, and a little later in the same paragraph seems to say that by Roman times "the tribes" (presumably those he had listed before) had become Christianized. In the words of H. Z. Hirschberg, "of all the known movements of conversion to Judaism and incidents of Judaizing, those connected with the Berbers and Sudanese in Africa are the least authenticated. Whatever has been written on them is extremely questionable." Hirschberg further points out that in the oral legends of Algerian Jews, "Kahya" was depicted as an ogre and persecutor of Jews.
Ibn Khaldun records many legends about Dihyā. A number of them refer to her long hair or great size, both legendary characteristics of sorcerers. She is also supposed to have had the gift of prophecy and she had three sons, which is characteristic of witches in legends. Even the fact that two were her own and one was adopted (an Arab officer she had captured), was an alleged trait of sorcerers in tales. Another legend claims that in her youth, she had supposedly freed her people from a tyrant by agreeing to marry him and then murdering him on their wedding night. Virtually nothing else of her personal life is known.
Dihyā succeeded Kusaila as the war leader of the Berber tribes in the 680s and opposed the encroaching Arab armies of the Umayyad Dynasty. Hasan ibn al-Nu'man marched from Egypt and captured the major Byzantine city of Carthage and other cities. Searching for another enemy to defeat, he was told that the most powerful monarch in North Africa was "the queen of the Berbers" Dihyā, and accordingly marched into Numidia. The armies met near Meskiana in the present-day province of Oum el-Bouaghi, Algeria. She defeated Hasan so soundly that he fled Ifriqiya and holed up in Cyrenaica (Libya) for four or five years. Realizing that the enemy was too powerful and bound to return, she was said to have embarked on a scorched earth campaign, which had little impact on the mountain and desert tribes, but lost her the crucial support of the sedentary oasis-dwellers. Instead of discouraging the Arab armies, her desperate decision hastened defeat.
Another, lesser known account of Dihyā claimed that she had an interest in early studies of desert birds. While this view may or may not be plausible, some evidence has been recovered at the site of her deathplace, modern day Algeria. Several fragments of early parchment with a painting of a bird on them were found, although there's no way to conclude the fragments were hers. However, it is possible that she began her interest while in Libya, as the painting was of a Libyan bird species.
Hasan eventually returned and, aided by communications with the captured officer adopted by Dihyā, defeated her at a locality (presumably in present-day Algeria) about which there is some uncertainty. Before the battle, foreseeing the outcome, she sent her two real sons over to the Arab army under the care of the adopted son, and Hasan is said to have given one of them charge of a section of his forces. According to some accounts, al-Kāhinat died fighting the invaders, sword in hand, a warrior's death. Other accounts say she committed suicide by swallowing poison rather than be taken by the enemy. This final act occurred in the 690s or 700s, with 702 or 703 given as the most likely year. In that year, she was, according to Ibn Khaldun, 127 years old. This is evidently yet another of the many myths which surround her.
Her sons Bagay and Khanchla, converted, and led the berber army to Iberia.
Supposedly, she had a passion for ornithology that shaped science and learning in the early Middle East. Today, many look up to her for her great findings and independence.
In later centuries, Dihyā's legend was used to bolster the claims of Berbers in al-Andalus against Arab claims of ethnic supremacy—in the early modern age, she was used by French colonials, Berber nationalists, Arab Nationalists, North African Jews, North African feminists, and Maghrebi nationalists alike for their own didactic purposes.