updated 9/26/2008 4:34:37 PM ET 2008-09-26T20:34:37

Authorities have ordered the closure of dozens of schools and a Web site run by a Muslim religious leader who argued that girls as young as 9 could marry, local media reported Friday.

Sheik Mohammed Ben Abderahman al-Maghraoui had issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, on his Web site saying it was lawful for a Muslim man to marry a 9-year-old girl because Islam's Prophet Mohammed had done so.

Moroccan law, however, sets 18 as the minimum age for women to marry, and the Council of the Oulemas — the country's highest religious authority — denounced al-Maghraoui as an "agitator."

"What the Prophet can do is not open to ordinary Muslims," said lawyer Mourad El Bekkouri, who filed a legal complaint this month asking "the king's prosecutor to sue al-Maghraoui for promoting pedophilia and rape."

Government officials said at least three dozen Quranic schools would be shut, according to local media on Friday.

A Religion Ministry official has been fired in the southern town of Marrakech for not catching al-Maghraoui's contentious fatwa, the Al-Ahdath Al-Maghribiya newspaper reported.

None of the newspapers named their sources and Moroccan officials could not be reached Friday for comment. However the lawyer, El Bekkouri, confirmed the media reports.

Al-Maghraoui was not immediately available for comment, but his Web site appeared to be accessible from outside Morocco.

Several newspapers reported that al-Maghraoui's religious schools and his Web site were funded by Saudi Arabia, which promotes a particularly rigorous strain of Islam known as Wahhabism.

Morocco, which is a relatively tolerant Muslim country and a strong U.S.-ally, has been battling a growing tide of radical Islam in recent years. The North African kingdom has tried to balance its courtship of Western tourism with the expectations of traditionalist societies in its population.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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