Dihya Al-Kahina - North African Queen Who Battled And Defeated The Invading Arabs
June 20, 2021 2011
Her people were defeated by the Arab
invasion of North Africa in the 7th century CE under the leadership of Kahina,
a Berber (Imazighen) warrior-queen and seer who reigned over them during the
7th century CE. In addition to al-Kahina, she is also known as Dihya al-Kahina,
Dahlia, Daya, and Dahia-al-Kahina. Originally, she was known by the name Dihya
or a version thereof (which means "beautiful gazelle" in the Tamazight
language of the Imazighen), but "Kahina" is an Arabic title that
might imply "prophetess", "seer," or "witch." She
is reported to have possessed supernatural abilities, which permitted her to
predict the future in some cases. Despite the fact that she is a defender of
the indigenous Imazighen people of North Africa, she is best recognized by the
label bestowed upon her by her Arab adversaries: al-Kahina.
In addition to being the daughter (or niece) of the Berber king Aksel (who died in c. 688 CE and was also known as Kusaila, Caecilius, and Kusiela), she was a well-known freedom fighter for the Imazighen people (also known as the Amazigh, "the Free People," the indigenous name for the Berbers) during the Middle Ages. Aside from her struggle with the Muslim Arab leader Hasan ibn al Nu'man (who died about the year 710 CE), little is known about her life. Her Umayyad army campaigned over North Africa at the time.
Kahina was able to defeat Hasan more than time and drive him out of the country. She is said to have implemented a scorched earth policy in order to deny the invading Muslims of any profitable items, and that this approach resulted in a loss of public support among the residents of that region. The scorched earth strategy may have been utilized by the Arab forces themselves, and subsequent Arab writers may have attributed the destruction of the area to Kahina, despite the lack of evidence to support this.
During her most recent battle with Hasan, a considerable percentage of her former allies fought alongside Hasan to defeat her. Kahina was beaten while commanding a significantly reduced force in the face of overwhelming numbers. Depending on how she died, whether she was killed in battle or poisoned to evade capture, or whether she was captured and later executed. The dates given for her death range between 698 and 705 CE, while historical evidence suggests that the date of 698 CE is too early and that her final battle took place in either 702 or 705 CE, depending on who you believe to be correct.
Early Life & Legend Of Dihya al-Kahina
Kahina's life is only known to us because of the writings of subsequent Arab historians who chronicled the Muslim conquest of Africa. As claimed by these historians and others, she was a Jewish witch who descended from the Beta Israel community of Ethiopian Jews, according to traditions and folklore. She is said to have been a royal member of the Jarawa tribe, which was part of a larger confederacy known as the Zenata Tribe of Mauretania; she was a princess who later rose to the position of queen and ruled over an autonomous state in the area of the Aures Mountains in modern-day northeastern Algeria, according to legend.
Some sources, on the other hand, indicate that Kahina was a Christian and that she derived her strength from a Christian image, which she worshipped. While at the same time, it has been suggested that she adhered to the local religion of Numidia, which included worship of the sun, moon, and veneration of one's ancestors among other things. The idea that she possesses prophecy is consistent with an ancient concept that the gods, or the spirits of the dead, could speak with some members of the tribe who possessed the gift of prophecy, which dates back thousands of years.
Legend has it that she had the ability to converse with birds, which she used to warn her of approaching troops. It's possible that this narrative began as a way to explain her purported prophetic abilities. Legend has it that she was once married to a dictator who was tormenting her people, and that she then assassinated him on the night of their wedding.
In spite of the fact that she is frequently referred to as a "Berber Queen," she is better known among the indigenous people of the region as an Imazighen, which is the more correct word. Ethan Malveaux, a scholar, offers his thoughts:
The word Berber was a derivative of the Greek word Kapes Bap Bapo`owoi, which meant savage (later the English would compact it into Barbary); the Arab adopted the name for these African tribes who were once subjected by the Ancient Romans and who had (before the Muslim Conquest) wrested semi-autonomy from the Byzantine Empire. (171-172)
This tribe's kingdom, the kingdom of the Zenata tribe, may have formerly been a component of bigger Imazighen confederations in the region, and it was one of several semi-autonomous nations.
She is typically described as being tall and having "amazing hair," which is generally taken to mean that she wore her hair long and bunched in dreadlocks. Her skin tone may have been fair or even white in later depictions, but she was a black African queen who would have dressed in the regalia of ancient Numidia, which consisted of a loose-fitting tunic or gown worn with sandals and often belted.
Relationship With Numidia & Rome
Numidia was a cohesive monarchy that flourished between 202 and 40 BCE, however the region's history and culture go back much further than that. It is widely regarded as the first Imazighen state to be established in North Africa, having been established by the king Masinissa (r. c. 202-148 BCE) following the Second Punic War (218-202 BCE) between Rome and Carthage in North Africa.
The Masaesyli, who lived in the west, and the Massylii, who lived in the east, were the two most important tribes in the region. Despite the fact that these people are often referred to as "tribes," it is possible that they were a coalition of numerous tribes under the authority of various chieftains. Known as the Kingdom of Numidia, Masinissa united these tribes to form a state that was eventually partitioned between Mauretania and Rome following the so-called Jugurthine War (112-105 BCE), which was begun by Masinissa's grandson Jugurtha (reigned 118-105 BCE) against the Roman Empire.
As a province of Rome, the Imazighen became embroiled in the Roman Civil War between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great in 46 BCE, and the region was subsequently ruled by Augustus Caesar (r. 27 BCE-14 CE) after 31 BCE, and the region was subsequently controlled by the Roman emperor Hadrian (r. 27 BCE-14 CE). After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, Numidia remained a Roman province for the rest of the century. Following the defeat of the Vandals in North Africa in 534 CE, it was elevated to the status of the Praetorian Prefecture of Africa under the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. It was later renamed the Exarchate of Africa, though it remained under Byzantine authority until the 13th century.
Under Roman rule, the Numidians developed into a multi-religious community with a wide range of religious traditions. There is no evidence of religious conflict in the region during this time period, and it appears that Judaism, Christianity, and the indigenous religion of the old Imazighen coexisted together. Known as "Rome's bread basket," the region of the Maghreb (the Berber world) developed as a result of its role in supplying the empire with grain and its army with mercenary cavalry.
The Invasion Of The Arabs
Following the establishment of the new religion of Islam in the 7th century CE, the Arabian armies launched conquering expeditions around the world. While academics today continue to debate whether these campaigns might be classified as jihads ("holy wars") since they were designed to convert vast populations to Islam through force, there is little doubt that this was the eventual goal.
It is true that certain verses of the Quran, such as 2:62 and 2:256, and others, criticize the practice of forced conversion; but, there are other sections in the Quran that support and promote the practice (for example, 16:125). (4:76; 9:5; 9:29; 9:38-39, to cite only a few). The Muslim Arabs were said to have had no need to force non-believers to convert because non-believers were required to pay a tax (the jizya) in order to live among Muslims, and this was more profitable than forced conversion. In contrast, control over a region's resources and population may prove to be far more profitable than imposing a tax on nonbelievers in the long run.
Before they reached the Maghreb, Arab soldiers had already conquered Mesopotamia and Egypt, converting the local populations to Islam, and were in route to the Maghreb. At the time of the invasion, the Byzantine Empire was still in possession of Carthage and the Maghreb, and the Byzantine Governor, Count Gregory the Patrician, organized a defense against the invading forces. Gregory was killed at the Battle of Sufetula in 647 CE, which took place south of Carthage, and his successor agreed to pay a large tribute to the Arab armies in exchange for the right to return to Egypt.
Until approximately 665 CE, no additional battles were launched due to intra-Arab group conflict. According to historical records, the city of Kairouan (in modern-day Tunisia) was founded as a base of Arab military operations around 670 CE, and it was from there that the general Uqa ibn Nafi (who died in 683 CE) launched his conquests toward Mauretania in the west. The location was chosen because of its relative safety from attacks by the Imazighen, who had already mobilized to resist the Arabs through guerilla methods before the site was decided. However, under the leadership of Aksel of Mauretania, the resistance would soon transform their approach to one of open warfare.
Aksel's Resistance To Invaders
As a first line of defense, Aksel managed to keep his kingdom safe from the invaders, but he then went on the offensive, forcing them back from his borders. Aksel had previously been a Christian who had changed to Islam on his own initiative since it appeared to be more profitable at the time. As the Arab Invasion progressed and threatened his independence, he abandoned his religious beliefs and returned to the indigenous religion of the Imazighen.
He was successful in increasing the number of volunteers to his army by using the national religion as a rallying point. The Arab forces kidnapped him but allowed him to live, maybe because of his knowledge of their religion or because he appeared to be a practicing Muslim at the time of capture. Even though he was saved his life, he was commanded to disband his army and convert them to Islam as punishment. He consented, was released (or escaped), and then launched an attack against the Arabs, defeating Uqba ibn Nafi's men and killing him in 683 CE.
Aksel took advantage of his win by expanding his realm and recruiting additional soldiers, but he was killed in combat with the Muslim Arab leader Hasan ibn al Nu'man in either 686 CE or 688 CE, depending on the date of his death. His wife (or another female relative) named Koceila, who reigned as queen, may have taken over as his successor at this point in history. Kahina was in command of the army by the time Koceila succeeded Aksel in 690 CE, indicating that Koceila did not hold the position for long.
The Noble Reign of al-Kahina
Kahina is believed to have fought alongside Aksel in the 680s CE and demonstrated her mettle in the field of war. This assertion is backed by the fact that her troops regard her as a capable military commander. She achieved an early win over Hasan (the date of which is uncertain) and compelled him to flee. In 698 CE, Hasan reorganized his forces and launched a violent assault against the city of Carthage. Now that he had gained control of the northeastern provinces, he launched another attack on Kahina, but was soundly defeated and forced to flee to either Libya or Egypt.
Because of Kahina's supposed ability of prophecy, she is claimed to have been able to predict how her opponent would organize his troops, how they would be reinforced, and from which direction they would attack. Several analogies have been made to the French heroine Joan of Arc (1412-1431 CE), and she also resembles the Native American Apache seer and female warrior Lozen (c. 1840-1889 CE), who was able to predict and defeat U.S Cavalry troops through precognition in the American Civil War. Some believe that Kahina used her talents to win a third victory over Hasan, or perhaps against an army under another leader, when Hasan was in Egypt or Libya, although this has not been proven.
According to mythology, she was outnumbered by the Arab armies during this fight, and she was forced to retreat in retreat. When she realized where the wind was blowing, she ordered her soldiers to start fires, which the wind blew all the way to the enemy's position. It was not possible for the Arab army to continue its advance because the terrain had been heavily scorched, and any future expeditions would have to cross an arid wasteland devoid of resources.
She is at a crossroads in her journey, and there are two possible outcomes. In the eyes of Arab historians and folklore, Kahina's victory via fire inspired her to implement a scorched-earth policy on a large scale. Some say she was under the impression that the Arabs were only interested in the land's riches and that, if she eliminated these, they would leave her people alone. As a result, she ordered her soldiers to demolish the walls, destroy the villages and towns, and melt down the gold and silver that had been collected. She went on to order orchards to be cut down, fields to be burned, and even private gardens to be demolished.
While she is said to have used this method in order to preserve her people, Kahina's policy was terrible for those who lived in the towns and cities and relied on the fields and orchards. As a result of Kahina's fire, their houses and businesses were destroyed, and the only alternative left to them was nomadic traveling in a territory that had already been devastated by war even before Kahina set it ablaze. Anger at the queen displaced prior admiration, and many of the queen's subjects rose up in rebellion against her.
The other possibility is that Arab historians are attributing to Kahina a method that has been observed to have been adopted by invading Arab troops in other parts of the world. During their invasions of Egypt, Libya, and Mesopotamia, Muslim Arab invaders often used scorched-earth methods to suppress the local populations. This seems that they did the same in North Africa, with subsequent writers attributing the enormous devastation to the queen who had led the struggle against them in that region.
It is probable that Hasan, or another commander, launched the scorched-earth campaign in North Africa in order to demoralize the population – as they had done elsewhere – and that the approach was successful in breaking down the opposition there as well. Those who had previously openly backed Kahina may have found themselves unable to continue doing so as a result of the destruction of their crops and homes. Furthermore, it's possible that by this point, the populace had simply accepted that a Muslim Arab victory was inevitable; Kahina herself may have felt the same way, as demonstrated by her later surrender of her boys to Hasan, which suggests that she felt the same way.
The Final Battle & Death Of Dihya al-Kahina
It is unclear if Hasan or Musa bin Nusayr was the Arab general who defeated Kahina, according to several sources (died c. 716 CE). Musa took over as governor of North Africa from Hasan, however it is unknown when this occurred. As a result, Musa is widely considered to be responsible for finishing the conquest of North Africa that Hasan had began, as well as enlisting Imazighen warriors for his invasion of Iberia, which took place after Kahina's death.
It appears that Hasan was the one who returned to meet Kahina for the final time after reorganizing his army in the wake of Kahina's victory. In contrast to the adversary who had forced him out of North Africa, he was now up against a very different opponent. The scorched-earth tactics that Kahina used to demoralize her former allies, as well as bribes, had caused many of Kahina's former allies to defect to Hasan. One of Kahina's sons is reported to have defected or been caught, and he is said to have provided information about his mother's fighting strategies.
Kahina and Hasan were engaged in war in either 702 or 705 CE. She is supposed to have sent her two other sons to the enemy camp, where they were raised by Hasan as Muslim soldiers, prior to the armies engaging. Due to her overwhelming numerical disadvantage, the war went against Kahina from the start; yet, her army fought heroically and garnered praise from the adversary.
According to many accounts, she was caught and later executed, or she may have poisoned herself, but the most widely recognized version is that she died in battle with her warriors while still grasping her sword. When she refused to cooperate, her head was chopped off and presented to Hasan as a trophy.
Kahina was revered as an opponent by all accounts, and her sons, who converted to Islam, were well cared for and would go on to head their own armies against anyone who stood up to Arab conquest. However, Kahina's people did not fare as well, with an estimated 30,000–60,000 of them being sold into slavery by the victors and shipped out of their own land. Small pockets of resistance remained - and many of the wives of Numidian chiefs are supposed to have committed suicide rather than be captured by the Arabs - but by the time the Arabs arrived, the situation had deteriorated significantly. North Africa was completely conquered and the inhabitants were converted to Islam during 705-750 CE.