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Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Under Fire From Islamic Leaders For Consoling Hugo Chavez's Mother

11/03/2013 15:04 GMT | Updated 11/03/2013 15:12 GMT

Never one to shy away from causing controversy abroad, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is causing a few ripples closer to home - for consoling a grieving woman.

Ahmadinejad was attending the funeral of Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, on Friday when he was photographed in an emotional embrace with Elena Frias de Chavez, the late leader's mother.

Muslim tradition states that men can only touch women who are close members of their family.

mahmoud ahmadinejad

A consoling embrace or breach of Islamic tradition?

The breach of Islamic protocol caused outrage amongst conservatives back in Iran.

Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, a prominent Iranian prayer leader, told the Mehr news agency: "Shaking hands with a non-mahram 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."

He added that he thought the photo was evidence Ahmadinejad had "lost control".

Another critic, Mohammad Dehghan, said it demonstrated Ahmadinejad was under the control of a "deviant current", reports the BBC.

The government was quick to blame the pose on camera trickery.

Mohammadreza Mir Tajeddini, a presidential aide, said: "They have doctored the picture or took it from an angle that appears to show they are in contact.

"There was no handshake."

The incident comes on top of a previous comment from Ahmadinejad in a written tribute to Chavez that said the Venezuelan president would return with Jesus Christ on resurrection day.

Islamic clerics were outraged by the Christian reference.

With elections looming in June, critics of Ahmadinejad are keen to use every opportunity to try and discredit him.

Clerics and Islamic institutions hold huge influence in Iran and can make or break the careers of politicians.

In 2007, former president, Mohammad Khatami, suffered a huge knock to his political standing simply for shaking the hand of a woman not wearing traditional Islamic headdress.