Dihya al-Kahina was a Berber queen, religious and military leader who fought against Islamic expansion in Northwest Africa during the 7th century. Her name is recorded with a number of variations, including, Daya and Dahlia. 'al-Kahina', meaning 'sorceress', was a title given to her by her Muslim opponents because the defeats she inflicted on them were deemed the result of magic.
Dihya was raised in the Aures mountains in what is now modern-day Algeria. She was daughter to the chieftain of a Jewish Berber (Amazigh) tribe, however some sources suggest she also had some Greek heritage. Little of her childhood or private life is recorded, save for some accounts saying she had a passion for desert birds, her studies of which led to early advances in North African biological science.
In the early 7th century the Berbers of Northwestern Africa were under the control of the Exarchate of Carthage, itself a division of the Byzantine Empire. However after Egypt fell to Islamic conquest the Exarchate found itself in direct conflict with the Islamic Caliphates. The Byzantine capital of Carthage eventually fell to the armies of the Umayyad General Hasan ibn al-Nu'man, essentially wiping out Byzantine control of the area. However with their former rulers defeated, Dihya was able to rally all of the Berber tribes under her leadership and she became know as the 'Queen of the Berbers'. She mounted a campaign of resistance against the Ummayyad invaders, at first using guerrilla warfare but quickly escalating into outright conflict. Under her instruction the disorganised Berber forces quickly transitioned into a well-disciplined army.
Seeing Dihya as the most powerful opponent in the region, General Hasan marched south to engage her. Their armies met near Meskiana, where Dihya's forces defeated Hasan's so completely that he fled the area and retreated to Libya for the next few years. During this time Dihya came close to establishing a new nation state, setting up new administrative systems to support her army.
However the Berbers had become the only opponent to Islamic rule in Africa and the Caliphates devoted enormous resources toward their defeat. Hasan returned with fresh forces, this time allied with one of Dihya's own sons who had defected. The Berber forces were defeated and Dihya herself was killed in the ensuing battle. Some accounts say she poisoned herself when defeat became inevitable, while others say she died in combat with a sword in her hand. As the last voice of resistance to Islamic rule in Northwest Africa, Dihya's death marked the end of an era for the region.