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 (see Umayyad conquest of North Africa ).
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.
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.
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 death place, 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.
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.