27 Sep 2008

Action against Moroccan preacher who said 9 year old girls can marry

BBC News- Rabat, September 26, 2008

by James Copnall

Morocco has shut down an association belonging to a controversial religious leader after he said girls as young as nine years old could marry.

A legal action is also being brought against Mohammed Maghrawi, who made the pronouncement on his website.

Moroccan media and human-rights groups have condemned Mr Maghrawi's words.

The religious authorities have said he is not qualified to give a fatwa, or religious opinion, and also denounced his views.

Mr Maghrawi's association has been shut down, and his website blocked, according to senior Moroccan officials.

The officials did not want to be named as they are not allowed to comment on the record.

Mr Maghrawi stirred up huge amounts of publicity, most of it bad, when he declared on his website that girls as young as nine could get married.

'Irrational needs'

A Moroccan lawyer made an official complaint against him, which the courts are investigating.

The lawyer, Mourad Bekkouri, says there is a danger Mr Maghrawi could gain followers among Morocco's large illiterate population.

"Islam has nothing to do with fatwas like this, because Islam is a noble and beautiful religion," he said.

"No-one can accept that a young girl of nine years can get married, because the place of a young girl of nine or ten is at school.

"She is not there to satisfy the irrational needs of this kind of person."

Mr Maghrawi, who is not in Morocco at the moment, told the TV station Al Jazeera that he had not given a Fatwa, simply made a recommendation.

There are also reports in Morocco that dozens of Koranic schools have been shut down throughout the country.

It is not clear if they are linked to Mr Maghrawi or if this is part of a wider government crackdown on perceived religious extremism.

Since suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003 Morocco has been deeply concerned about rising levels of extremism, and in particular the Wahhabi school imported by Saudi Arabian-funded preachers.

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