The photograph, taken on Friday at Chavez's funeral in Caracas, shows an emotional Ahmadinejad touching his cheek to Chavez's mother, Elena Frias de Chavez, while the woman clasps his hand and appears to cry.
According to the Telegraph, religious conservatives said the embrace was "haram," a term meaning a sinful action that is offensive to God. Similarly, influential legislator and religious leader Mohammed Taghi-Rahbar said Ahmadinejad had "lost control," France 24 writes.
Islamic rules, which are applied in Iran, typically forbid Muslim men from touching women outside of their own families.
The controversy over the image deepened when both an aide to the president and a major Iranian newspaper said the photograph had been doctored, the BBC reports. The Iranian newspaper, which had blamed the Telegraph for "photoshopping the picture amateurishly," later issued an apology, saying one of its reporters was confused and had circumvented his editors.
Ahmadinejad previously gained widespread attention with comments he made on his personal website, saying Chavez would be resurrected alongside Jesus.
The criticism by Iran's conservative leaders of Ahmadinejad's embrace may be politically motivated, as the Islamic Republic has an election approaching in June -- its first since 2009 when violent protests over Ahmadinejad's victory destabilized the country.