FRIDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- The religious beliefs and traditions of the estimated 7 million Muslims in the United States significantly influence their attitudes about health care, and the medical establishment would do well to address their concerns, a new study suggests.

For their report, researchers from the University of Chicago interviewed more than 100 Muslims in southeastern Michigan, which boasts one of the nation's largest Muslim American communities.

"The idea was to talk about the health care values of American Muslim patients and the challenges they face inside the health care system," said Dr. Aasim Padela, assistant professor of medicine and director of the university's Initiative on Islam and Medicine, in a university news release. "The findings can guide us as we move forward on accommodating these patients and others."

The study was recently published online by the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding in Washington, D.C.

The celebration of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, is one of many traditions that might influence a Muslim patient's health care, the researchers said. Also, the idea that God is responsible for health, disease and healing is a common belief among Muslims of different ethnic backgrounds.

"Most participants perceived illness through a religious lens as predestined, a trial from God by which one's sins are removed, an opportunity for spiritual reward, a reminder to improve one's health, and sometimes a sign of personal failure to follow Islam's tenets," the study authors wrote.

Likewise, treatment for Muslims involves a spiritual component along with modern medicine, explained Padela. While a doctor's care may be sought, imams, or spiritual leaders, also "play a big role in healing, in the sense that they help you understand disease and illness," he said in the news release.

Better communication between doctors and community imams would help address the concerns Muslim patients have about their medical care, he added.

Cultural sensitivity training for medical staff, providing culturally familiar food and offering hospitalized Muslims a place to pray would also help bridge the gap between health care professionals and this large and ethnically diverse religious group, the researchers said.

"There is an undercurrent of 'we've been there and asked for these things, but the onus is always on us. They don't come meet with us,'" said Padela. "If hospitals go to the community and have that mutual learning process, it will help the community and help the patients at the bedside."

More information

The American Medical Association provides more information on faith in medicine.