One of the things you notice alot more living in a big city is the divide between the rich and poor. I used to notice this alot when we went to New York City and we would see bums hanging out in front of rich stores or sleeping in the subway or homeless people foraging for food. I remember once seeing a little old wrinkled Chinese lady next to the very wealthy financial district in NYC (home of Wall street) going through the garbage pulling out edible things and putting them into a tupperware box she had. It was just an incredibly sad sight next to stockbrokers in suits hurrying by.
London is said to be the most expensive city in the world and you certainly feel it. Most people do make more money here but the exorbitant costs just seem to eat away at that. Muslims still live in ghettos because they just can’t afford to get out! Food is expensive, public transportation is expensive, so is owning a car and gas, electronics, furniture almost every type of good is more than what you would pay in the US, rents are high, costs of a house are beyond expensive. Currently London is experiencing a huge housing shortage which is driving up the house prices here to extreme levels. A tiny row house will cost you at least 300,000 pounds (yes pounds!) which makes it equivalent to a half million dollar mansion like house somewhere in the US maybe with a pond and tennis courts and a pool to boot!
I wonder sometimes who can afford all this stuff and then I realize that there are extremely wealthy people that live here, millionaires, celebrities and royal families from all over the world all have houses here and have priced out everyone else from central London. Average people like teachers and nurses and regular workers are having to live out further towards the edges of London and are commuting much longer and paying heavy transportation costs into work. The rich here shop at designer stores and own whole neighborhoods and fancy cars. I kind of feel like I live in Beverly Hills sometimes but without the palm trees (or nice weather!)
Anyhow to me as an American who grew up middle class in a house with 4 bedrooms and a big back yard, with everything in easy distance, with Walmart and Target and all kinds of cheap stuff, where people commute a max of 30 minutes and usually work 9 to 5 only, I’m really just trying to understand how people here deal with their standard of living! But I now am beginning to see that Europeans value other things perhaps more than an American might. London does have alot more culture and resources. I can’t even remember the last time I went to a Museum in the US, but in London there’s always something new and beautiful to go see. Even the Islamic community while divided has so much to offer in terms of courses and programs. In terms of political awareness they are light years away from Americans who are struggling to differentiate between Chechnya and the Czech republic! They do have universal healthcare (for now) and many welfare type things that they are willing to pay for through taxes. They value their history and traditions, traveling, entertainment, ‘experiences’ and own way less ‘stuff’ than we do.
It’s interesting to note the difference in values between the US and UK and there are many things to think about, but I can’t say it doesn’t bother me when I see rich Khaleeji’s buying $3,000 purses at Harrod’s or some rich Eastern Europeans buying all the apartments in Central London or wealthy London financial bankers (that exist bc of taxpayer bailouts or margaret thatcher’s destruction of one industry for another) easily buying a nice house that none of the working poor in London will afford in a lifetime.
The sharp difference between socio-economic status is very obvious here. Whenever it’s highlighted I just remind myself that it’s all Dunya. That none of us are going to take all this with us and it’s been proven over and over again that none of this brings happiness, spiritual growth or closeness to the Divine. In the end, it’s Allah that gives us our Rizq. Some of us are tested by wealth and others by poverty. What we’ve sent ahead of us is with Allah and what remains will turn to dust. One day, both London’s rich and London’s poor will eventually realize “Richness is not in the quantity of possessions (that one has); rather, true richness is the richness of the self.” [Bukhari]
More good reading:
1. Time Magazine Great Divide: How the City of London Widened the Gap between Britain’s Rich and Poor