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article imagePhoto of Ahmadinejad hugging Chavez's mother sparks controversy

By JohnThomas Didymus     Mar 12, 2013 in World
Tehran - A photo that shows President Ahmadinejad hugging the grieving mother of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has sparked a controversy among conservative Muslim leaders who say his action is "haram," that is prohibited by Shiite Islamic regulations.
According to The New York Times, the photo which was distributed to Western news agencies by the Venezuelan government shows Ahmadinejad at Hugo Chavez's funeral in Caracas, Friday, March 8, holding hands with Chavez's mother Elena Frias Chavez and touching his cheek to the side of her face with a pained emotional expression on his face. The bereaved mother appeared to be crying.
The Telegraph reports that Iranian conservatives say the embrace was "haram," that is, offensive and thus "prohibited."
According to The Huffington Post, Shi-ite Islamic rules of etiquette forbid Muslim men touching females who are not relatives. Rferl.org explains that Iranian officials and diplomats usually bow with their palms held together politely when greeting female foreign officials.
According to The New York Times, Hojat al-Islam Hossein Ibrahimi of the Society of Militant Clergy of Tehran condemned Ahmadinejad's action, saying: β€œIn relation to what is allowed [halal] and what is forbidden [haram], we know that no unrelated woman can be touched unless she is drowning at sea or needs medical treatment.”
Haram: Ahmadinejad hugs Chavez s mother Elena Frias Chavez
Haram: Ahmadinejad hugs Chavez's mother Elena Frias Chavez
Venezuelan Government (Handout)
Another conservative leader Mohammed Taghi-Rahbar, accused Ahmadinejad of having "lost control."
However, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Mirtajedini, an aide who accompanied the president to Caracas denied that he embraced Chavez's mother. He said: "They have altered the picture so that it is interpreted this way. There was no embracing."
He explained that Chavez's mother was very emotional and was calling Ahmadinejad "her son." Ahmadinejad was trying not to hurt her feelings when she approached him and tried to hold his hands. The aide said the president withdrew his hands politely.
An Iranian newspaper Entekhab, also repeated the claim that the photo was digitally altered. The BBC reports that Entekhab accused The Telegraph of "Photoshopping the picture amateurishly." However, the newspaper later issued an apology, saying that its reporter was mistaken.
The BBC reports that Entekhab said:
"After seeing [another] picture of Ahmadinejad and [an] old man, one of our reporters thought this was the real photo. Believing that he has made a significant discovery, he published the story without informing his editors. Unfortunately, the photo showing Ahmadinejad and (Mrs) Chavez is genuine."
The "picture of Ahmadinejad and [an] old man" refers to a photo circulated online showing the Iranian president with an "uncle of Mr. Chavez" in the same pose as he was shown with Chavez's mother. The "uncle of Chavez" was later confirmed to be Mohamed El-Baradei, a former top UN official. The photo in which Ahmadinejad appears much taller than El-Baradei was later confirmed to have been Photoshopped. El-Baradei is reportedly much taller than Ahmadinejad in real-life
Prior to the controversy over his touching Mrs. Chavez, Ahmadinejad had raised eyebrows when he said on his personal website that he expected Chavez to resurrect with Jesus.
According to Rferl.org, Ahmadinejad said he was certain that Chavez "will return" with Jesus Christ and the Shiite prophetic figure Imam Mahdi ("The Hidden"). The statement offended many conservative clerics some of whom rebuked him and suggested that he refrain from including religious references in diplomatic messages.
Ahmadinejad has had a tense relationship with Iran's conservative Shiite clerics aligned with the powerful Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Analysts say that the renewed attacks on Ahmadinejad reflect the intensification of power tussle as his second term in office ends.
The Los Angeles Times reports that many Iranians disagree with the religious conservative critics of Ahmadinejad.
Hassan, a 30-year-old teacher, expressed the feelings of many Iranians when he said: "I didn't vote for President Ahmadinejad, but good for him. I am happy he is getting back at the hard-liners."
Ali, a motorcycle dispatch rider, wondered what the hullabaloo was all about. He asked: "So did President Chavez convert to Islam? Or did the president convert to Catholicism?”
Ahmadinejad's second and final term in office ends in August.
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