Miraflores Palace via AFP - Getty Images
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greets Elena Frías during the state funeral of her son, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 8.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have endeared himself to much of Latin America with his performance at the funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but minders of religious righteousness in his home country were unamused.
His sin — unfortunately for him captured in a photograph — transpired when he came cheek to cheek with a grieving Elena Frias, the mother of the late president, while clasping her hands. In strict Islamic societies, people are not supposed to touch others of the opposite gender unless they are related or married.
The image sparked a storm of controversy in the Iranian press, according to the English-language Iran Pulse, and went viral on Twitter and Facebook as users joked about it or speculated about how the conservative Islamic clerics back in Tehran would respond.
Their answer was swift and certain.
"In relation to what is allowed (halal) and what is forbidden (haram) we know that no unrelated women can be touched unless she is drowning at sea or needs (medical) treatment," said Hojat al-Islam Hossein Ibrahimi, member of the Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran, according to the Iran Pulse report.
Ahmadinejad was already under scrutiny by the conservative clerics who call the shots in Iran, and apparently they did not like the eulogy he gave for Chavez at the memorial ceremony.
They said it was another sign that a "deviant current" was driving the president a greater distance from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
During the eulogy, Ahmadinejad said that Chavez "will come again along with Jesus Christ and Al-Imam al-Mahdi to redeem mankind,” putting the populist Venezuelan president and ex-paratrooper in the ranks of holy figures.
Mohammed Dehghan, a member of the Iranian parliament, called for religious scholars to confront Ahmadinejad’s "un-Islamic" acts, Al-Arabiya reported.
Some Shiite religious figures admonished the Iranian president to become better educated about his religion. Others urged him not to make religious references for the rest of his campaign for re-election, while his supporters said the whole uproar was a part of a smear campaign.
A second controversial photograph surfaced that appeared to be of Ahmadinejad attending the funeral in Caracas last week, but it turned out to be a fake that amateurishly Photoshopped the Iranian president in a cheek-to-cheek moment with the former director-general of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Egyptian Mohamed ElBaradei.