Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Thanks for this interesting question, which reflects part of misconceptions that some people have about Islam and the way it treats women. We really commend your efforts in pursuit of truth. This is what is required of all people, to seek truth and not to give in to anything that may cloud their minds with fake ideas about Islam.
First of all, it should be stressed that Islam has honored woman in all spheres of life. According to Islam, the woman is equal to her male counterpart, and she is responsible for her actions as the male. At the time of the Prophet women were accustomed to posing questions in the presence of men. Neither were they embarrassed to have their voices heard nor did the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) prevent them from forwarding their inquires. For this reasons, Muslim scholars state that women are allowed to voice their opinion publicly as long as they avoid softening their voices and flirting in a manner meant to cause temptations.
Responding to the question, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), and the president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), states the following:
Many Muslims have adopted the Judeo-Christian ethic which views women as the source of human tragedy because of their alleged biblical role as the temptress who seduced Adam into disobedience to his Lord. By tempting her husband to eat the forbidden fruit, she not only defied Allah, but caused humankind's expulsion from Paradise, thus instigating all temporal human suffering.
Those misogynists who support this Biblical myth, dredge from the archives of pseudo-Islamic literature such as false and weak hadiths.
This Old Testament myth is a widely circulated belief in the Islamic community despite the fact that Allah in the Qur'an stresses that it was Adam who was solely responsible for his mistake. In surat Taha, verse 115, it is stated: (We had already, beforehand, taken the covenant of Adam, but he forgot; and we found on his part no firm resolve.) Then, it is stated, (In result, they both ate of the tree... thus did Adam disobey His Lord, and fell into error. But his Lord chose for him (from His Grace): He turned to him, and gave him guidance.) (Taha 20: 121-122)
Therefore, there is nothing in Islamic doctrine or in the Qur'an which holds women responsible for Adam's expulsion from Paradise or the consequent misery of humankind. However, misogyny abounds in the pronouncements of many Islamic 'scholars' and 'Imams.'
The result of such misinterpretation of hadiths and spreading negativity is that entire societies have mistreated their female members despite the fact that Islam has honored and empowered the woman in all spheres of life. The woman in Islamic law is equal to her male counterpart. She is as liable for her actions as a male is. Her testimony is demanded and valid in court. Her opinions are sought and acted upon.
Contrary to the fabricated hadith: 'Consult women and do the opposite,' the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) consulted his wife, Umm Salamah on one of the most important issues to the Muslim community. Such references to the Prophet's positive attitudes towards women disprove the hadith falsely attributed to `Ali Ibn Abi Talib: 'The woman is all evil, and the greatest evil about her is that man cannot do without her.'
The promotion of such negativity against women has led many 'scholars' and 'Imams' to make the unsubstantiated ruling about female speech. They claim that women should lower their voice to whispers or even silence except when she speaks to her husband, her guardian or other females. The female act of communication has become to some a source of temptation and allurement to the male.
The Qur'an, however, specifically mentions that those seeking information from the Prophet's wives were to address them from behind a screen (Al-Ahzab 33: 53). Since questions require answers, the Mothers of the Believers offered fatwas to those who asked and narrated hadiths to whomever wished to transmit them.
Furthermore, women were accustomed to posing questions to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) while men were present. Neither were they embarrassed to have their voices heard nor did the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) prevent them from forwarding their inquires. Even in the case of `Umar when he was challenged by a woman during his khutbah (Friday sermon) on the pulpit, he did not deny her. Rather, he admitted that she was right and he was wrong and said: 'Everybody is more knowledgeable than `Umar.'
Another Qur'anic example of a woman speaking publicly is that the daughters of the Shu`ayb mentioned in the Qur'an in surat Al-Qasas, verse 23. Furthermore, the Qur'an narrates the conversation between Sulayman and the Queen of Sheba as well as between her and her subjects.
All of these examples support the fatwa that women are allowed to voice their opinion publicly, for whatever has been prescribed to those before us is prescribed to us, unless it’s unanimously rejected by Islamic law.
Thus, the only prohibition is the female talking softly and flirting in a manner meant to excite and tempt the male. This is expressed in the Qur'an as complacent speech which Allah mentions in surat Al-Ahzab, verse 32, ('O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any of the other women: If you do fear Allah, be not too complaisance of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak you a speech that is just.)
What is prohibited then is alluring speech which entices those whose diseased hearts may be moved with desire and that is not to say that all conversations with women is prohibited, for Allah completes the verse, (...but speak you a speech that is just.) (Al-Ahzab 33: 32)
Finding excuses to silence women is just one of the injustices certain scholars and Imams attempt to inflict upon women. They refer to such hadiths as narrated by Bukhari about the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) which says: ' After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women.' They assume that the harm implies that women are an evil curse to be endured just as one must endure poverty, famine, disease, death and fear.
These 'scholars' ignore the fact that man is tried more by his blessings than by his tragedies. Allah says, 'And We test you by evil and by good way of trial.' (Al-Anbiya': 35) To support this argument Allah says in the Qur'an that two of the most appreciated blessings of life, wealth and children, are trials. Allah says: (And know you that your possessions and your progeny are but a trial.) (Anfal 8: 28)
This means that a woman, despite the blessings she bestows on her relations, can also be a trial for she may distract a man from his duty toward Allah. Thus, Allah creates awareness how blessings can be misused and become curses. Men can use their spouses as an excuse for not performing Jihad or for eschewing sacrifice for amassing wealth. Allah in the Qur'an warns: (Truly among your wives and children are enemies for you.) (At-Taghabun 64: 14)
The warning is the same as for the blessings of abundant wealth and offspring (Al-Munafiqun: 9). In addition, the sahih (authentic) hadith says: 'By Allah, I do not fear for you poverty, but I fear that wealth would be abundant for you as it was for those before you, so you compete for it as they competed for it, so it destroys you as it destroyed them.' (Agreed upon hadith) This hadith does not mean that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged poverty.
Poverty is an affliction from which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) sought refuge in Allah. He did not mean for his Ummah to be bereft of wealth and abundance for he said: 'The best of the good wealth is for the pious person.' (Reported by Ahmad and Al-Hakim)
Women are also a gift for the pious person, for the Qur'an describes the Muslim men and women, the believing men and women as aids and comforts for each other here and in the Hereafter.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not condemn the blessings Allah provided for his Ummah. Rather the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) wished to guide Muslims away from the slippery slope whose bottomless pit is a mire of callousness and desire.