The Desert Nomads
Long before recorded history, there was a group of nomads wandering the desert regions. While their earliest history is lost in the sands of time, scholars have been able to trace their origins by reconstructing the language they spoke. They did this by comparing the languages that evolved from out of this ancient prehistoric language. This language is called Afrasian. Several languages developed out of Afrasian. These include the Semitic languages, Berber, Egyptian, and the Chadic and the Cushitic languages. Important Semitic languages include Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and various languages of Ethiopia. In this story we will look at the Berber and Semitic peoples.
The Berbers live in North Africa in the region the Arabs call the Maghreb. They call their language Tamasheq. Berbers, Ancient Egyptians and Coptic Egyptians, and the Semitic peoples, are cousins who are the common descendents of the Afrasians. The Berbers lived in North Africa long before recorded history. It is their ancient homeland. (When I speak of North Africa, it is spoken of to the exclusion of Egypt, though some Berbers live to the west of the Nile.) North Africa was conquered by the Phoenicians (who became the Carthaginians), then the Romans, the Vandals (one of the Germanic tribes that invaded the Roman Empire), the Byzantines, and finally the Arabs. Other foreigners, notably Greeks and Jews, also lived in ancient North Africa.
The Children of Cain
Cain was a worshiper of the LORD God. He called God by the name Yahu-wah or Yahweh. In his zeal for Yahweh, he struck a man down, his own brother. Yahweh punished him for this sin, but spared his life. As a sign of protection, Yahweh put upon his forehead the Mark of Cain, a cross. Cain’s descendents tattooed this symbol upon their foreheads as a sign of devotion to the God Yahweh. Cain’s descendents were the nomadic peoples. The Arabic Bedouin and Saleb of the Middle East and the Nomadic Berbers of North Africa bore the Mark of Cain and observed the customs of the nomadic Yahweh worshiping Kenites, the Children of Cain. Today, the custom of tattooing is now dying out among the nomadic peoples in the Middle East and North Africa, but continues among the Coptic Christians of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Once I was observing Arab families who were visiting their relatives who had been incarcerated by American forces in Iraq. I noticed that the elderly women wore traditional clothes and bore the tribal tattoos but the younger women did not have tattoos and were dressed in the Western fashion. Certain anthropologists have photographed elderly women with the traditional tattoos so that the custom may be documented before it disappears. Interestingly, Islamic traditions state that Mohammed condemned the practice of tattooing. (Mohammed does not prohibit tattoos in the Koran, but does in the Hadith. The Hadith is considered authoritative in Islam.) Tattooing is an ancient Arabian and Berber custom that Islam wasn’t able to abolish for centuries. (Certain Muslim teachers also teach that Islam condemns singing and dancing- and belly dancing in particular. These proscriptions have been ignored by many Muslims for over a thousand years.)
The Rise of the Kahina
This is the story of Dahi-Yah the Kahina. She is also known as al-Kahinat -meaning "female seer" from the Arabic. (Kahina is derived from the Arabic word "Kahin" meaning "soothsayer.") Kahina, was a military and religious leader of the Jrawa Zenata tribe of the Berbers. She was the daughter of a Berber chieftain named Tabat, who took the name Mātiya (or Matthew) upon his baptism. Kahina had large dark eyes and very long black hair. She was tall for a woman of her time, and she was very charismatic. She emerged from among the desert Berber nomads and arose to become one of the greatest leaders of the Berber people. She was the last queen that ruled over the Berbers before the Islamic Conquest. She died in the year 702 A.D.
Before the Islamic conquest of northern Africa began, Africa was a province of the Byzantine Empire. At that time it had been re-conquered by Emperor Justinian after having fallen to Visigoth Barbarians. The entire area thrived under the capital city, Carthage. Peace in the land brought economic prosperity. Its grain was exported, as well as goods produced by artisans, such as red pottery which had become renowned throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. Africa was rising to become an intellectual center of the world. Kahina's youth had been spent in this time at this time of economic prosperity and growth of education and near to where peoples of different races and religions thrived. There were Romans, Berbers, Visigoth settlers, and Numidians; there were also Catholics, Arians, Donatists, and Jews who lived in the region.At the time of the death of Mohammed in 632, Muslims ruled only in Arabia. After Mohammed died, the Arabs revolted against Islam and in the “Wars of Apostasy” (the Ridda Wars) the Muslims subdued the Arabs. Then the Muslims began attacking neighboring lands. They conquered Syria (635-636), Palestine (638-640), and Egypt (639-642) from the Byzantines and first Iraq (635-637) and then Persia (637-642). In the 680s the Arabs swept across North Africa from Egypt to the Atlantic. The Byzantines clung to their coastal cities. After the Muslims finally conquered Egypt in 646 AD, the years of peace would come to a close. Islam was quickly approaching, and the Byzantine Empire was suffering defeats on many other fronts, and was further weakened by a great civil war. There was no assistance given as the Muslim armies approached so the Byzantine Exarches of Africa were forced to rely upon what limited resources that could be found locally. Amazingly they were able to hold off the Arabs until 680 AD, when the Muslims finally broke through their defenses. The Byzantine retreated to the coastal cities as the Muslim commander, Oqba led raids along the coast, which reached the Atlantic Ocean in modern Morocco. The Muslim leader Oqba ibn Nafi reached the Atlantic in Morocco and, according to legend, rode into the sea and slashed at the water with his sword in fury that there were no more lands to conquer. However soon he, and his army were soon annihilated by a group of Berber tribes. On his return march in 683, Oqba was defeated and slain by the Berbers. The Arab Conquest paused for a decade but in 698 the Muslims finally took Carthage, evicting the Byzantine Christians completely from Africa.
Now the conquerors faced their last and most stubborn enemy; the Berbers led by Queen Dahi-Yah the Kahina. Dahi-Yah succeeded Kusaila as the war leader of the Berber tribes in the 680s and opposed the encroaching Arab armies of the Umayyad Dynasty. Kusaila is known as Aksel by the Berbers. Kusaila was a 7th-century leader of the Awraba tribe of the IMAZIGHEN Berber people and head of the Sanhadja confederation. He is known for prosecuting an effective Berber resistance against the Muslim Arab invasion and expansion into North Africa in the 680s. Aksel grew up in Berber tribal territory during the time of the Byzantine exarchate. He led a combined Byzantine-Berber force when he defeated Oqba. On the return march to Kairowan, Kusaila joined with the Byzantine forces and organized an ambush. The Christian-Berber force, about 5000 strong, defeated the Arabs and felled Oqba at Tahudha near Biskra in 683. Kusaila now held undisputed mastery over North Africa and marched to Kairowan in triumph. In 688 Arab reinforcements arrived under Zuhair ibn Kays. Kusaila met them in 690 at the Battle of Mamma. Vastly outnumbered, the Awraba were defeated and Kusaila was killed. And thus Dahi-Yah came to rule.
Dahi-Yah was renown for her beauty. When she was a young woman, she was demanded by another chieftain to become his bride; when she refused he began to terrorize her tribe. Kahina was forced into hiding for a time, but finally she agreed to the marriage, in order to halt the massacres of her people by the vile chieftain. When she surrendered herself to him, he beat her, humiliated and raped her. Then he forced her to wed him. On the wedding night, she murdered her new husband by smashing his skull with a nail, as Jael the Kenite had done to the tyrant Sisera. The chieftain was a tyrant, and Kahina was greatly praised and thanked for rescuing the people of his tribe from his leadership.
Dahi-Yah had been born to a noble Berber family. She was graceful and wise and had an inquisitive mind. Her family provided her with the best education. One of her interests was that of exploring the natural world. She bore two sons. Bagay was the son of her first husband, the tyrant. Her other son Khanchla was begotten of one of her royal consorts. Later, she adopted an Arab man who defected to her from the Muslims. Dahi-Yah traveled with an icon bearing the image of Christ Pantocrater, which the Arabs, derisively called an idol. She had it carried with her when she went to war. Dahi-Yah also had scientific interests. She studied the desert birds and wrote of them and drew pictures of them. An early parchment book with paintings of birds in its pages has been found which may have been the work of Kahina. The paintings were those of the species of birds found in Libya.
The Victory of the Kahina
The Umayyad Muslim leader Hasan ibn al-Nu'man marched from Egypt and captured the major Byzantine city of Carthage and other cities. However, during the siege of Carthage, Kahina had been busy rallying together all the Berber tribes under one ideal; to unite and defeat the Muslims. She also gathered survivors of the Byzantine army and the remnants of the Visigoths. They were determined to drive out the invaders. They began with guerrilla warfare which turned into a full scale attack against the Muslim army. Searching for another enemy to defeat, Hasan was told that the most powerful monarch in North Africa was "the queen of the Berbers" (Arabic: malikat al-barbar) Dahi-Yah, and accordingly he marched into Numidia, where she reigned.
Hasan sent an envoy to Dahi-Yah to demand that she submit to Islam.
The envoy was brought before Dahi-Yah and she questioned him.
“Why have you attacked my kingdom?”
“We have come to end the period of Jahiliya-of darkness and ignorance-and bring the light of Islam.”
“We are not in darkness and ignorance. It is you who are ignorant. I have learned the traditions of my people from our elders and our ancient lore from our clanswomen. I am fluent in Berber, Punic, Latin and Greek. And I have read widely in Greek and Latin. How many languages do you speak?”
“I speak Arabic alone. But it is the language of God. The Arabic Koran is glorious and none can imitate it.”
“Why would anyone want to imitate such a rambling and incoherent diatribe? I have read many books far superior to your Koran. Since your people began attacking my people, I have mastered your language and read your Koran. There is nothing new in it. Only the repetition of certain religious truths of the most rudimentary level, nothing to the level of the sublime as we see in the teachings of the Messiah found in the Bible. I found your Koran to be disjointed and confused and lacking in any new spiritual truth and indeed regressive, especially in regards to the relations between men and women. I ask you as a Muslim, would you submit to my rule as queen?”
“It is not fitting for a woman to rule over men, for the Glorious Koran states that Allah has made men a degree above women and Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Koran 2:228). Allah has commanded saying, “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other, and because they spend their wealth to maintain them. Good women are obedient. They guard their unseen parts because God has guarded them. As for those whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to beds apart and beat them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. Surely God is most high.” (Koran 4:34)”
“I once had a husband who beat me. I crushed his skull. Allah is indeed mighty and wise, but your false prophet, may he name be cursed forever, was an ignorant and unlearned man and it is obvious that he was fed tales from a Jewish man, a man far wiser than he, tales he used to compose his Koran. I have also been told the story of this false prophet. He was an illiterate beggar who married an older woman so he could take her money. It is obvious that he couldn’t read. If he had been able to read he wouldn’t have made so many errors when he attempted to retell stories from the Bible in his Koran. Though he despised woman, without Khadijah, his wife, he would have been nothing. He dared not take another wife while she was still living, lest she cast him out. Tell me, what does your Koran tell you about how a woman should act?”
“A woman should cover her breasts and wear a veil. The Koran says, "And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need of women, or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known." (Koran 24:31) and tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them..."(Koran 33:59). The Koran teaches that only an aged woman may put aside the veil (Koran 24:60). In his teachings of the Hadith, the prophet, peace be upon him, stated with clarity that women must cover their faces with veils.”
“In the custom of my people, it is the men who veil their faces and women who uncover theirs. And we Berbers have no use for the customs of the Arabs. I will not avert my eyes from you, you savage. Why should I? I am not inferior to you and you are not my equal! It is you who should fear to look upon me! Nor will I cover my face or my breasts. Look upon them! This body your right hand shall never possess. If you attempt to do so, I will kill you. Look upon my body and see that I bear the sign of the cross, the tribal emblem of my ancestors and the sign of my savior the Christ. Tell me, have you heard of Augustine of Hippo?”
“He was a Berber like myself. His writings are profound. In contrast to his writings your Koran is like the vulgar scribblings of the graffiti seen in the streets. Have you read any book besides the Koran?”
“No, and I vowed to read no other. It is the final and perfect word of God.”
“That is why you are a fool and why you shall remain one. The Koran is the product of an unlearned mind. While your prophet had knowledge of Judaism, his understanding of Christianity was limited. He confused the Trinity as “Allah, Jesus, and Mary” instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and incorrectly called the Messiah Esau, when his name was Jesus (Koran 5:73-74, 116-117). The Jews substitute the name of Esau, whom they perceive to have been a villain, for the name of Jesus, as a way of mocking the Messiah. Yet your prophet didn’t have the wit to see this.”
“I invite you to accept Islam, or to pay the Jizya, if not submit to execution or fight us!”
“I am a free woman! I will not allow myself or my people to be enslaved by you and your barbarous customs. Your Koran is at variance with the teachings of the true Messiah. Let it be known that it was a North African, one of my people, who carried the cross of Jesus Christ. To this cross I cling. We will not leave the path of God’s Messiah to follow another. I know what you are. You come to kill our men, ravish our women, enslave our children and rob us of our property. You use your religion as a pretense to commit crimes against my people. I reject your religion, I reject your false prophet as a liar, and I reject your unholy book. I will never submit to the teachings of your accursed teacher, who was a liar and no true prophet.”
“And you are not a true queen! You are a witch and a sorceress. In insolence you speak against Allah and his prophet. Your kingdom shall fall before the armies of Islam.”
“That remains to be seen, but I shall fight you and I will personally lead my warriors into battle. Soldiers, take this insolent swine and give him ten lashes and cast him from my presence!”
One of her advisors cautioned against this.
“He is an envoy. Should we cause offence?”
“His profligate phony prophet and perverse book of lies offends me. If we convert to Islam, the Arab armies will come and take our lands, our wealth and enslave us. If we are defeated, the same fate awaits us. It is better to fight. Yahweh granted me the throne of my ancestors. It is my duty to honor the legacy of my fore-fathers, to seek the good of my people, and create a better future for our descendants. Let us have war!”
The armies met near Meskiana in the present-day province of Oum el-Bouaghi, Algeria. Kahina completely defeated the Moslems and pushed the invading army all the way back into Egypt, all the way to the Nile . She defeated Hasan so soundly that he fled Ifriqiya and holed up in Cyrenaica ( now known as Libya) for five years. Kahina won five years of peace and independence for the Berbers.
Dahi-Yah then reclaimed the ruins of Carthage, and became the unquestioned leader and heroine of northern Africa. She was now joined also by deserters of the Muslim army, including an apostate who became a lieutenant and her adopted son. Her fame as a seer and a prophetess who could read minds and foresee what would come to pass grew. It was at this time she gained the name al-Kahinat. She ruled as a great military and administrative leader over her transformed army which now had disciplined army that was capable of being maintained, all while holding off the Muslims.
The Fall of the Kahina
Due to her foresight, Kahina knew that the Muslims would attempt to conquer their lands again, and so she began preparing in the best way she knew how. “I see that the Moslems shall return,” she said, “We must fight them as we can. Perhaps human innovation can challenge fate. If not, let history record that we challenged evil with all our might.”She declared that the Arabs wished to conquer North Africa because of its wealth. She ordered Berbers who were still nomadic to destroy the cities, orchards, and herds of sedentary Berbers, to make North Africa a desert. She said, “What is it that attracts to our land these Arab spoilers? The wealth of our cities; the treasures of silver and gold dug from the bowels of the earth; the fruits of our gardens and orchards; the produce of our fields. Let us demolish our cities; return these accursed treasures to the earth; fell our fruit-trees; lay waste our fields, and spread a barrier of desolation between us and the country of these robbers!” According to Ibn-Khaldun, this savage policy of city burning and scorched earth cost the Kahina the support of city-dwelling Berbers. Instead of discouraging the Arab armies, her desperate decision hastened defeat. Her actions caused her to lose support of the settled population who were terrified by the destruction. They began to believe that even if they were defeated and enslaved by the Moslems, at the least they might survive.
Hasan eventually returned and, aided by communications with the captured officer adopted by Dihyā, he amassed an army at a locality in present-day Algeria.
As Dahi-Yah prepared for battle, she sent for her sons. She said to her servants, “Bring my sons Bagay and Khanchla before me.” Then she spoke to them in private saying, “Now is the time for dissimulation. I send you ahead of me to serve as my ambassadors. They will take you hostage. Then I shall fight and fall in battle. When you hear of my death, feign conversion to Islam. Pretend to join their cause. Remember, the survival of our Berber people is to be your primary goal. Make a pretense of fighting for Islam, but subvert the Muslims rule from within. I have looked into the future. While God is just and good, for some mysterious reason God has decreed that Islam shall prevail for a time. Maybe God is punishing mankind for his sins. I foresee an age of Islam. An age of darkness, ignorance, slavery, disease, famine and despair. For many years there shall be warfare and brigandage, backwardness and decline. And yet, in the end Islam shall fall, and the Berbers will cast aside the bondage of Islam and the yoke of the Arabs and be a free people again. And at that time, the Berbers will become one of the great peoples of the earth. Pretend to be a Muslim, but make the survival of your people your highest goal. I sacrifice my life for my people. May my memory speak to generations yet unborn, our remote posterity, that I may speak to them through my actions, and thus inspire them to act, when the day of our liberation arrives at last.” Her sons wept before her but then obeyed.Before the battle, foreseeing the outcome, she sent her two real sons over to the Arab army under the care of the adopted son, whom she knew to be a traitor. She then put on her armor, assembled her army, and rode before them, leading them into battle against the Muslims.
Al-Kāhinat died fighting the invaders, sword in hand, a warrior's death. Many of the Moslems fled before her. Those who opposed her lay in mounds of corpses surrounding her body. Though pierced with many arrows and many blows, she lived. Knowing the Islamic law, that grants Moslems to rape “infidel” women taken in the field of battle (Koran 33:50, Koran 4:24, Koran 8:69-71), she took out a vial of poison she had hidden under her armor. She drank it and perished. Finding her corpse in the battlefield, the Muslims beheaded her. Her head was mummified and sent to the Caliph who had it nailed to the entrance of his favorite mosque. No one after her was able to organize effective resistance to the Islamic armies. North African had fallen to Islam.
After the Death of the Kahina
After the battle, Hasan gave one of the sons of Kahina charge of a section of his forces. Her sons Bagay and Khanchla led the Berber army to Iberia.The Islamic historian Ibn-Khaldun complained that the Berbers were given to rebellion and heresy. He said, “They continued to rebel and apostatized time after time. The Muslims massacred many of them. After the Muslim religion had been established among them, they went on revolting and seceding, and they adopted dissident opinions many times. Ibn Abi Zayd said that the Berbers in the Maghrib revolted twelve times and that Islam become firmly established among them only during the governorship of Musa ben Nusayr and thereafter. That is what is meant by the statement reported on the authority of 'Umar, that "Ifriqiyah [Africa] divides the hearts of its inhabitants." The statement refers to the great number of tribes and groups there, which causes them to be disobedient and unmanageable. The Berber tribes in the West are innumerable. All of them are nomads and members of groups and families. Whenever one tribe is destroyed, another takes its place and is as refractory and rebellious as the former one had been. Therefore, it has taken the Arabs a long time to establish their dynasty in the land of Ifriqiyah.”
The Berbers are beginning to assert their independence from the Arabs. They have revived their ancient script and are using it to write their own language. The use of the Berber language and alphabet or the public display are Berber symbols (such as letters from the alphabet) could result in arrest. (The Berber writing system is called Tifinagh. The Berbers called themselves Imazighen in plural, and Amazigh in singular. meaning "free people" or "free and noble men". The word has probably an ancient parallel in the Roman and Greek names for some of the Berbers, "Mazices". There are several important Berber clans such as the Tuareg and the Kabyle. (There are various dialects as well such as Riffian and others.) The Tuareg are the “Blue Men of the Desert” who are nomads. Tuareg men often wear blue turbans and veils and generally keep their faces covered. Berbers are scattered across north-west Africa with important groups in Algeria, Morocco, Niger and Mali.
One day in the course of my travels in the deserts of the Middle East, I came across a Berber man. He was friendly. He wore a shirt that bore a Berber letter. I showed him a scar between my first and second knuckle on my left hand that resembled the letter. I fell and struck a rock as a child and it left the symbol upon my hand as a scar. He was amused to see that by some strange chance an American bore a Berber letter upon his hand! He told me how the Arabs repressed the Berbers and attempted to keep them from speaking the Berber language or writing with the Berber alphabet. However, the Berbers continued to assert their distinctive culture. There were also rumors I had heard of tribes of Berbers secretly returning to the Christian faith of their ancestors. The Kabyle community in Algeria has a decent-sized recently constituted Christian minority, both Protestant and Roman Catholic.