Now let us see what meaning can we infer in the context of this Hadeeth. Because if a word can be used in different meanings, the best way to ascertain the true explanation is to look at the context
There are scores of 'Assoclation in this Hadeeth which clearly show that the only meaning fitting the occasion can be 'Master'. Some of them are as follows:
First: The question of The Holy Prophet asked just before this declaration: He asked them,
"Am I not having more authority upon you than you have yourselves?"
When they said, "Yes, Surely!" Then The Holy Prophet proceeded to declare:
"Whomsoever I am master Ali is his master too".
Can any doubt be entertained that 'Mawla' has the same meaning as Friend!' (Having more authority upon you) in the preceeding question?
At least 64 great Sunni traditionalists have quoted that preceeding question; among them are Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, Ibn Majah, Nasai and Tirmidhi.
Second: The following prayer which The Holy Prophet uttered just after this declaration:
"O Allah love him who loves Ali, and be enemy of the enemy of Ali, help him who helps Ali, and foresake him who foresakes Ali."
This prayer shows that Ali was given that day a responsibility in which, by its very nature, some people would become his enemy (and that responsibility cannot be except that of a Ruler); and in carrying out that responsibility he would need helpers and supporters. Have you ever heard helpers being needed to carry on a 'friendship'?
Third: The declaration of the Holy Prophet that,
"It seems eminent that I would be called (by God) and I would answer that call."
This declaration of his eminent death clearly shows that he was making arrangements of the Leadership of the Muslims after his death.
Fourth: The congratulations of the companions and their expressions of joy do not leave any room for any doubt concerning the meaning of this declaration.
Fifth: The occasion, place and time. Imagine The Holy Prophet breaking his journey in midday, and detaining thousands of travellers under the burning sun of Arabian desert, making them sit in a thorny place on the burning sand, making a pulpit of camel saddles; then imagine him delivering a long lecture and at the end of all those preparations coming out with an announcement that
"whosoever loves me should love Ali."
Can such thing be excused evnn to a simple person having minimum of common sense'' No. But some people are ready to accuse The Holy Prophet of such childish behaviour!