The four phrases – Subhan Allah, Alhamdulillah, La ilaha illAllah, Allahu Akbar – and the Hawqalah – La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah – together encompass Tawheed (worshipping Allah alone) and Qadr (Pre-Decree).
Ibn Abu Awfaa said, a man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said, “I cannot learn the Qur’an, so teach me something that will suffice me. He said, Subhan Allah, walhamdulillah, wa la illaha illAllah, wallahu Akbar, wa La hawla wa la quwwata illa billaah…” (Abu Dawood, No. 832; An-Nasa’i 2/143)
A servant does not have the means to repel harm or the ability to attain goodness except by Allah’s Will. A servant cannot change disobedience to obedience, sickness to health, weakness to strength, deficiency to perfection except by Allah’s help. He does not have the ability to take care of his affairs or realize any of his goals except by Allah’s help. What Allah Wills will happen and what He does not Will will not happen. The affairs of creation are tied to His Decree and Pre-Destination.
La hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah is a weighty phrase that means being sincere to Allah alone in asking for help. Just as the phrase of Tawheed: La ilaha illAllah means being sincere to Allah in worship.
Worship is the goal which is connected to Allah’s Worship (Uloohiyyah) and asking for help is the means which is connected to Allah’s Lordship (Ruboobiyyah).
Ibn Taymiyyah mentions in Istiqamah (2/81) that many people wrongly use La hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah in situations of calamity and say it out of fear, and not out of patience. The Hawqalah is a phrase to seek help and not a phrase of calamity. (The phrase of calamity is Inna lillahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji’oon, which means “To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.”)
Ibn Abbas defined La hawla wa laa quwwata illa billaah as:
“We have no ability to act in obedience except through Allah and we have no power to leave disobedience except through Allah.”
Ibn Taymiyyah mentions that the reason behind saying the Hawqalah after the mu’adhhin says “come to prayer/come to success” is to seek Allah’s help in performing the prayer.