This expression is mentioned by a Muslim whenever seized by a calamity or in a situation beyond their control. The word Hawqala is made by the method of combining (or "naḥt") from the words "hawla" and "quwwata".
The English translation does not completely convey the full meaning of the phrase. For example, translating the word "hawla" as "power" is an over-simplification. The Hans Wehr "Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic" shows the linguistic verb root for "hawla" as "h-w-l", and it depicts all manner of change, transformation and motion.
Here are some literal translations of "la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah" that incorporate the concept of change and transformation:
- There is no power or strength except with God.
- There is no transformation or strength except through God.
- There is neither progress nor might except through God.
 Piamenta, Moshe (1979). Islam in Everyday Arabic Speech. BRILL. p. 155. ISBN 9004059679