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The question Is real (physical) money traded during online trading? says

In Islam, it is a common ruling that the product that a person buys should exist physically.

It seems to me that this would prevent purchase of a downloaded book, or a piece of software, or any kind of license to use anything, or something like a membership of a gym. Is this really a common ruling?

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Islam devides items between "money" and "everything else". It was usually "physical" in nature, but nowadays it may include items like you mentioned. The important things is money can be exchanged for everything else than money. Buying money with money is essentially interest or "riba" and is strictly prohibited.

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    Thank you. Now I see where the original questioner is coming from. I presume this restriction would not prevent you changing foreign currency, as long as you didn't make a profit on it. – DJClayworth Jan 2 '14 at 15:40
  • I am not knowledgeable enough to give a definite answer, but exchanging currency seems fine to me, as one is not buying or selling something, we are just changing its form. – goto Jan 3 '14 at 7:33
  • @DJClayworth That would likely fall under the same ruling as buying silver for gold, which is fine if it's done on the spot rather than on credit. – goldPseudo Jan 4 '14 at 2:48
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In general, for a sale to be considered valid it requires an exchange of property from one party to another. However, exactly what constitutes "property" is a matter in which where is scholarly dispute.

The majority opinion was that it was something upon which ownership could be claimed, and which would bring benefit to the person who owned it. As such, all of the listed examples would be valid objects of sale.

The Hanafi position in this matter, however, is that something needs to be possessable to be property; traditionally this necessitated that it be physical as well.

From the Hanafi perspective, one could arguably "possess" a downloaded book or piece of software insofar as one is fully capable of owning, protecting and disposing of it through the hard drive, despite the data itself not actually being "physical". However, a license would not be property per se — it's not actually a possessable object, just the right to use one — so any such transaction would be regarded as a leasing arrangement rather than a sale, and regulated accordingly.

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