The study explored beliefs about health and illness in females with diabetes mellitus (DM) from different religious backgrounds living in Sweden. Swedes showed an active self-care behaviour and a healthy and controlled life-style. Ex-Yugoslavian Muslims emphasised enjoyment of life and a passive self-care attitude, lesser inclination to self-monitoring of blood glucose and preventive foot care. Arabs emphasised adaptation to DM and a lot of 'musts' concerning diet, and had a lower threshold for seeking care. They also emphasised being a believing Muslim, and although explaining the cause of DM as 'the will of Allah or God', in contrast to ex-Yugoslavians, they actively searched for information about management of DM. Cultural and religious distance are essential for understanding self-care practice and care-seeking behaviour, and need to be considered in the planning of diabetes care.