Allah عزّ وجلّ says in suratul Baqarah ayah [2:257]:
اللّهُ وَلِيّ الّذِينَ آمَنُوا يُخْرِجُهُمْ مِنَ الظّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النّورِ
‘Allah is the Wali of those who believe, He brings take them from the darknesses into the light.’
وَالّذِينَ كَفَرُوا أَوْلِيَاؤُهُمُ الطّاغُوتُ يُخْرِجُونَهُمْ مِنَ النّورِ إِلَى الظّلُمَاتِ
‘and those who disblieve their Awliyaa’ are taghoot, they bring them out of the light to darknesses.’
Wali is a special type of friend, who expresses the will to help to you and support you. A wali is a friend that you turn to for help, protection and support. The wali is the primary in the relationship, they are the dominant party.
Take for example, if a father is the wali to his son, then the father is the primary in the relationship.
Allah عزّ وجلّ says in the beginning of the ayah that He is the Wali for the believers. Those who disbelieve have Taghoot (anything and everything that is worshipped besides Allah) as their Awliyaa (plural of wali).
There are two comparisons taking place in this verse:
- The believers and those who disbelieve, and
- Allah عزّ وجلّ and taghoot [those worshipped besides Him].
- When Allah عزّ وجلّ says He is the Wali of the believers, He comes first.
- But for those who disbelieve, their wali [those who are worshipped along with Allah] is mentioned last (as a sign of humiliation to them).
Why is the arrangment different?
Allah عزّ وجلّ is being ‘compared’ to taghoot [i.e. the disbelievers attempt to take their taghoot as equals to Allah], yet: there is NOTHING like Him, NOTHING can be compared to Him. These taghoot do not deserve to be mentioned in the same place as Allah عزّ وجلّ was mentioned. They do not deserve to be mentioned in even the same sentence. So the Taghoot are placed the furthest away from Allah's Name.
Allah عزّ وجلّ says in Surat Muhammad ayah 11,
ذَ*ٰلِكَ بِأَنّ اللّهَ مَوْلَى الّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَأَنّ الْكَافِرِينَ لَ مَوْلَىٰ لَهُمْ
‘That is because certainly Allah is the Mawlaa of those who believe, and indeed the disbelievers have no Mawlaa.’
Mawlaa is more than a Wali; a Mawlaa is someone who can protect you and actually does so; they are protecting you, while a Wali is someone who is willing to protect you. When it came to Wali, both the believers and disbelievers had one, but when it comes to Mawlaa – someone who CAN protect you – only the believers have One, and the disbelievers have no Mawlaa [Protector].
From a lecture by Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan on An-Nasr. Watch the lecture here: https://www.islamawareness.net/Quran/VideoLectures/surah110.html