National and European directives have now enshrined within European law the requirement that healthcare professionals provide their patients with culturally appropriate and sensitive care. Although well intentioned, many health professionals find it difficult to translate these directives into practice. Barriers to providing culturally competent care include racism, institutional discrimination and gaps in our understanding of the interface between culture and health--this latter factor reflecting the lack of training in transcultural health care. In this paper, we concentrate on issues relating to the provision of palliative care near death to Muslims of South Asian origin in the UK, although much of what is said will equally be applicable to Muslims from other parts of the world. This is the first of two articles giving insights into the palliative care of Muslims. The second article 'Palliative care of Muslims and issues after death' will appear in a later issue.