In an attempt to console the grieving mother of Hugo Chavez, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad embraced the 78-year-old woman, prompting harsh criticism by clerics, who deemed the embrace as an insult to Islam.
The Iranian president’s domestic opponents reacted furiously after photos emerged of him giving Elena Frias de Chavez (78), a consoling hug at last Friday’s funeral in Caracas — at which he also kissed Chavez’s coffin.
Religious conservatives said the act insulted Iran’s religious dignity and amounted to ‘haram’ — a term used to describe a religiously forbidden act under Islamic rules.
Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, the Friday prayer leader of Iran’s second city, Isfahan, said Ahmadinejad had ‘lost control’. He added: “Shaking hands with a non-mahram (unrelated by family) woman, under any circumstances, whether young or old, is not allowed. Hugging or expressing emotions is improper for the dignity of the president of a country like the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Mohammad Dehghan, a member of the governing board of Iran’s parliament, the Majles, said the episode exposed the true nature of the ‘deviant current’, the term used by allies of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, to describe Ahmadinejad and his allies.
Conservatives loyal to Khamenei accuse the administration of seeking to dilute Iran’s Islamic principles. Last week, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a senior Iranian cleric close to Ayatollah Khamenei, criticised Ahmadinejad for predicting in a written tribute that Chavez would return along with Jesus Christ on resurrection day.
“I say directly that he went too far with what he mentioned in his tribute,” Khatami said. “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.”
Chavez and resurrection
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Chávez would “return on resurrection day”. He said he had “no doubt that Chávez will return to Earth” along with Jesus and Imam Mahdi, the most revered figure among Shia Muslims. He also said he believed something ‘suspicious’ caused Chávez’s cancer.
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