President Ahmadinejad hugged Hugo Chavez’s mom in what appeared to be a moment of unintended softness from the Iranian leader. But the small gesture of comfort incited anger in the leader’s country, where physical contact between unrelated men and women is banned.
Ahmadinejad’s anger-inciting hug happened during the funeral of Venezuela’s President Chavez, who passed away last week. The interaction between the two was captured for the world by The Associated Press.
And the reaction to the photograph in Iran was swift. Religious conservatives saw the photo as proof that Iran’s official representative had violated publicly the ban on interactions.
Immediately after the photo was published, Hojat al-Islam Hossein Ibrahimi of the Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran, asked authorities to carefully vett future candidates for the presidency so that they know what is prohibited by the laws of Shiite Islam. Hossein added, “we know that no unrelated woman can be touched unless she is drowning at sea or needs medical treatment.”
Other religious conservatives responded to Ahmadinejad’s hug with Chavez’s mother by saying the act amounted to “haram.” The term is used to describe an act that is forbidden under Islamic rules. Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, the Friday prayer leader of Isfahan, stated that the Iranian president had “lost control.”
Conservatives loyal to Iran’s Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei have accused the president of seeking to dilute Iran’s Islamic principles. The photograph of Ahmadinejad hugging the Venezuelan leader’s mother will likely become another example. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami has already criticized Ahmadinejad for the tribute he gave to Chavez last week.
The Iranian president wrote a tribute to Hugo Chavez, saying that the leader, who died of cancer, would return along with Jesus on the day of the resurrection. Khatami stated:
“I say directly that he went too far with what he mentioned in his tribute. The president is well aware that such a tribute will provoke reactions in our religious institutes He could have sent a diplomatic message with no religious connotations.”
Supporters of Ahmadinejad claimed the photo from Chavez’s funeral was doctored. As proof, they released a photo of the leader hugging Mohamed el Baradei.