The words, Wala’, Wilayat, Wilayat, Waly, Mawla, Awlaand the like have been derived from the same root, viz. Waly. The various forms of this root-word and its derivatives are the most oft-recurring words in the Holy Qur'an. It is said that they have been used 124 times in the form of a noun and 112 times in the form of a verb.
The original meaning of this root-word as mentioned by Raghib in his lexicon "Mufradatul Qur'an" is one thing taking place by the side of another in such a way that there is no distance between them i.e. if two things are placed side by side in such a manner that there is no other thing between them the root-word 'Waly' is used.
For example, if some persons are sitting side by side with one another and we wish to mention the manner and order in which they have taken their seats we say that Zayd is the head of the assembly and i.e. Amr is sitting by Zayd without there being any distance between them and similarly Bakr is sitting by Amr without there being any distance between them.
That is why this root-word is naturally used for nearness and proximity also, both physical and figurative. And again for this very reason it has been used in the sense of friendship, love, patronage, guardianship, control etc., because all these conceptions involve some sort of contact and proximity.
A number of meanings have been given for this root word and its derivatives. For example, some 27 meanings of the word Mawla have been given. It is obvious that originally it was not coined for all of them and could not have more than one original meaning. Other meanings are to be obtained from contextual indications.
This word has been used in the case of material and corporeal matters as well as in the case of spiritual and abstract matters, but in the beginning it has admittedly been used in connection with material matters and has also been used in spiritual matters by way of likening contemplative with perceptible or by way of abstraction of the meaning of perceptible from its material and palpable characteristic.
This is so because whether it be from the point of view of an individual during his lifetime or from the point of view of human society during its history the attention of man has always been directed towards perceptible things before he has reflected rationally. After perceiving palpable meanings and concepts man has gradually moved towards spiritual meanings and concepts. And naturally he has used and employed the same words which he first utilized in connection with material matters.
It is just as the scientists do not coin new terminology for their sciences and do not make use of the words which are in use in common parlance, but give them particular meanings which are different from those which they carry in common terminology.
In regard to the use of the words Wilayat and Wilayat, Raghib says that the former means "help" and the latter denotes to be "in charge". It may be said that in reality both the words have the same sense i.e. in charge.
In regard to the words, Waly and Mawla, Raghib says that both of them have the same meaning. The only thing is that they are used sometimes in the active and sometimes in the passive sense.
Then he mentions the occasions on which these words are used.