lâ hawla wa lâ quwwata illâ bi Allâh
The magnificent phrase lâ hawla wa lâ quwwata illâ bi Allâh is mentioned numerous times in the hadith as being highly regarded and highly recommended by the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. The phrase is a part of daily prayers for many Muslims, and is a common phrase in ceremony and dhikr.
It is not uncommon to find the phrase lâ hawla wa lâ quwwata illâ bi Allâh translated simply as there is no power or strength except through Allâh. However that translation fails to capture the grandeur and deeper significance of this magnificent phrase.
Translating the word hawla simply as power is an over-simplification. The Arabic root h-w-l depicts all manner of change and transformation. The root h-w-l has led to a wide variety of words, but they all share this common thread of change and transformation. Certainly it is true that transformation and change require power, but power alone is not an adequate translation.... change and transformation are the keys to this magnificent phrase.
The phrase may be translated word-by-word as:
lâ = no, not, none, neither
hawla = change, alteration, transformation, movement, motion
wa = and
lâ = no, not, none, neither
quwwata = strength, power, potency, force, might, vigor
illâ = but, except, if not
bi = with, to, for, in, through, by means of
Allâh = Arabic name for the Supreme Being
Progress is only achieved through change and transformation... and spiritual progress requires the highest degree of change and transformation. We may wish to change, but we alone do not have the power to make such changes.
Such change and transformation can only occur through the tahwîl (transformation) of Allâh. That is to say, true change and transformation can arise only through the awesome and glorious powers of Allâh.
Here are some literal translations of the phrase lâ hawla wa lâ quwwata illâ billâh that incorporate the idea of change and transformation:
There is neither change nor power except by means of Allâh.
There is no transformation or strength except through Allâh.
There is neither progress nor might except through Allâh.
Ascribing power and ability
You should know that the most comprehensive and inclusive formula for expressing the repudiation of one's own claim to power and ability is La hawla wa-la quwwata illa bi'Llah ('there is neither power nor ability save by God').
The Proof of Islam, may God be pleased with him, said: "'Power" [hawl] is motion, and "ability" [quwwa] is aptitude"'.
No creature possesses either ability or power over anything save through God, Who is Able and Capable. It is incumbent upon believers to have faith that in whatever God permits them to do or abstain from-as, for instance, in conforming to an injunction, whether by acting or abstaining, or in seeking their provision by resorting to action in the form of crafts and professions, and so on-it is God the Exalted Who creates and originates their intentions, abilities and movements; and that the acts they choose to perform will be attributed to them in the manner known as 'acquisition' [kasb] and 'working', and shall be, in consequence, liable to reward and punishment; but that they exercise volition only when God Himself does so, and can neither do nor abstain from anything unless He renders them able to. They possess not a single atom's weight of the heaven or the earth, nor do they attain to any partnership in its governance, or become supports to Him.
It is on the ability and power to make choices, which God has granted to His servants, that commands and prohibitions are based. Things which are done intentionally and by choice are attributed to them, and they are rewarded or punished accordingly.
Hence the meaning of la Qawla wa-la quwwata ilIa bi'Llah is the denial of one's possession of autonomous power and ability, and the simultaneous confession of the existence of that [relative] power and ability to make choices that He has given His servants to be their own.
He who claims that man has no choice or ability, that the acts he selects are identical with the acts he is compelled to do, and that he is in all circumstances coerced is a deterministic [jabri] innovator whose false claim would deny that there was any purpose in sending Messengers and revealing Scriptures. By contrast, he who claims that man possesses the will and power to do whatever he does by choice is a Mu'tazili innovator. But he who believes that a responsible [ mukallaf] man possesses power and choice to allow him to comply with God's commands and prohibitions, but is neither in dependant thereby nor the creator of his own acts, has found the Sunna, joined the majoritarian community, and become safe from reprehensible innovation.
There is a lengthy explanation to this, which follows a rugged road where many have slipped and gone astray; and beyond it is the secret of Destiny, which has always perplexed intelligent minds, and into which the Master of Messengers has commanded us not to delve. So let the intelligent be content with hints, and let it suffice them to believe that everything was created by God, and nothing exists without His will and power. Then let them require their selves to conform to the commandments and prohibitions, and take their Lord's side against their selves in every circumstance.
A hadith says that, La hawla wa-la quwwata illa bi'Llah is one of the treasures of the Garden'.
Understand the indication contained in terming it a 'treasure' and you will know that its meaning is among the mysteries; for reward is of the same species as the act. The Prophet has also said, may blessings and peace be upon him:
Two rakas in the depths of the night are one of the treasures of goodness.'
Their reward comprises a hidden treasure because the time of their occurrence, namely the night, implies this.
It is also reported that' La hawla wa-la quwwata illa bi'Llah is a remedy for ninety-nine ailments, the least of which is sorrow.'
It is a remedy for sorrow because grief mostly occurs when one misses something one loves, or when a distressful thing occurs; and whenever either of these things occurs people perceive their helplessness and inability to achieve their desired aims; hence they feel sorrow. If at such times they repeat in their heart and with their tongues words which mean that they disavow the possession of any ability or power of their own, then this gives them certitude in their knowledge that they are helpless and weak except where God gives them power and ability, with the result that their sorrow is banished, and their knowledge of their Lord is increased.
This can be clearly understood from the Prophet's saying, may blessings and peace be upon him:
'When one believes in destiny, one's sorrow departs.'
And in attributing ability and power to His Name, Allah, which is the axis of the Names and the most supreme of them, and in following it on most occasions with the two noble Names which indicate two of the attributes of the Holy Essence, namely, those of Exaltation and Magnitude, lies a sign that He totally transcends and is absolutely holier than the illusions of those who have strayed from the path, are blind to the evidence, and have delved without insight into the secret of destiny and the acts of God's creatures. So take heed!
Ahadith mentioning virtues of this phrase
Sa'ad (ra) narrated that Muhammad said, "Should I not lead you to a door from the doors of Paradise?" I said, "Do tell me, O' Messenger of Allah! He said, "La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah ("لا حول ولاقوة إلا بالله")." From Mustadrak Hakim.
Abu Ayub al-Ansari narrates that on the night of Mi'raj, Muhammad passed by Ibrahim. Ibrahim asked, "O' Jibreel, who is with you?" Jibreel said, "Muhammad." Ibrahim said to him, "Command your Ummah to plant saplings of Paradise plentifully, as the soil of Paradise is fertile and it's plain is spacious." It was asked, "What are the saplings of Paradise?" He replied, "La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah." From Musnad Ahmad, Majma-uz-Zuwaid.
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