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.

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